This feature started as a tweet late at night, a request for people to suggest their top-five sporting Scots of the decade. The responses came in a blur.
Days after the original question was posed they were still coming. Name after name, sport after sport. A top five became a top 20 and then a top 50.
Asking for nominations was the easy part. Going through them all, registering each suggestion and then adding to the master list proved challenging. There have been about 150 different versions of our top 50. A rower moved up a place, a footballer moved down a place, a person coming in from left field to replace somebody who was in and then was out. All the time, the mind was driven that bit closer to distraction.
How do you construct a top 50 of the greatest sporting Scots of the decade? With great difficulty, as it turns out. It’s tough enough to figure out the chosen ones, but then to rank them in order from 50-1 is a task that tens of thousands of people might try but one that would surely produce tens of thousands of different outcomes. I
It’s fun, though. There’s no right way or wrong way of doing this. If sport resulted in everybody agreeing with each other then what a dull world it would be.
- Top 50 Scottish sporting stars of decade – 50-41
- Top 50 Scottish sporting stars of decade – 40-31
- Top 50 Scottish sporting stars of decade – 30-21
- Top 50 Scottish sporting stars of decade – 20-11
There are people on this list – not many, but some – who have won precious little in their careers but whose world-class talent demands that they be included. But where? How do you look on somebody whose star shone briefly in the decade but incredibly brightly? How do you rank somebody who excelled for years but in a sport where the competition wasn’t as hot as other sports? Weighting achievement across the sports is no easy business.
Is longevity a pre-requisite or should there be a place for one-off brilliance? Where do you place an athlete with World Championship gold medals compared to one with Olympic silver? How many footballers deserve – truly deserve – to make it? What about those who compete wonderfully but in sports with little following? How do we look on Para-sportsmen and sportswomen and their place in the overall scheme?
There were any amount of real puzzlers. Numerous times there was gridlock when trying to separate two people from the same sport with similar achievements. In that case, advice from an expert from that sport was sought. Normally, it went something like this: “I’d pick X ahead of Y and here are the reasons, but don’t quote me!”
The final list, then. Fifty names from 25 different sports. You may disagree with much of it, but consensus on this kind of thing is always over-rated.
10. Scott Brown
Over the course of the decade there can’t have been a more talked about or more influential footballer in Scotland than Brown. If you’re a Celtic fan you love him, if you’re a fan of any other club you love to hate him. He’s that kind of character, a relentless winner and wind-up merchant.
He has captained Celtic to eight league championships in a row and a three trebles in a row. He won 18 domestic trophies in the last 10 years despite having been all but written off numerous times over the years. The media and sections of Celtic’s own support questioned him at various junctures, wondering if he still had the legs to live with younger and more dynamic midfielders. Brown always came back with an emphatic answer. To lead a massive club where expectation and pressure comes with the territory for 10 years is some achievement.
To continue to be the standard setter despite turning 34 last summer is testament to his desire. Brown is a huge Scottish footballing figure from this or any other decade.
9. Sir Chris Hoy
Had this been an appraisal of athletes of the century rather than the decade then Hoy would, of course, be in the top two or three. Across the span of his illustrious career he won six Olympic golds (more than any other Briton in history), 11 World Championship golds and two Commonwealth golds. His best years were behind come 2010, but he still added more metal to his collection.
In 2010 and 2012 he won gold in the keirin at the World Championships and won two more golds at the Olympics in London in 2012 in the keirin and the team sprint. Those victories took him past Steve Redgrave as Britain’s most successful Olympian in history. What was unforgettable, apart from his exploits on the bike, was his press conference after breaking the record.
He sat there for an age, answering every question, dispensing fantastic insight into his world and showing the kid of natural humility that made him such a revered character. Hoy was, and remains, a class act.
8. Duncan Scott
Another swimmer of the highest class. Scott made the final of the 100m freestyle at the Rio Olympics, finishing a hugely positive fifth. Now age 22, it’s hard to know where to start cataloguing his rise. His gold in a stellar 100m freestyle final at the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast was spectacular given the quality of the field – Kyle Chalmers, the reigning Olympic champion, was hot favourite to win. Scott’s final 50m was jaw-dropping.
He’s done so much more, though. Two Olympic silvers in Rio in the 4 x 100m and 4 x 200m relays, golds in three World Championships also in the relays, more gold at the European Championships and European Games. One of the most eye-catching moments, and a clear sign of the calibre of the guy, came when he won individual bronze at this year’s World Championships.
Scott refused to share a podium with the gold medal winner, China’s Sun Yang, who had served a doping ban in 2014 and had another doping investigation hanging over him, reacted furiously. Scott reportedly got death threats online for blanking Sun but he got nothing but praise and admiration from around the sporting world when the footage went viral.
7. Kim Little
Through her time with Arsenal (where she spent the first five years of her career as well as the last two), Seattle Reign and Melbourne City, Kim Little has established herself as one of the finest attacking midfielders to come from these shores, winning a Premier League and three Super Leagues with Arsenal in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2019 along with an FA Cup in 2011 and 2013. Her goals tally from midfield was a key factor.
In 2010 she finished as the leading scorer in the league and won the Players’ Player of the Year. In 2013 she won it again, collecting her trophy at the same bash as the men’s winner, Tottenham’s Gareth Bale. The following season she ventured to America for a stint in Seattle in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL). Seattle got beaten in two grand finals while she was there but more individual success followed.
She was named Most Valuable Player in the NWSL in 2014 and also won the golden boot. In 2014 and 2015 she was picked in the team of the year. She went to Melbourne for a season and was player of the match as City won a W-League grand final. Little then returned to her footballing spiritual home, Arsenal.
Little suffered injury and missed out on Scotland’s European Championship campaign in 2007 but was there for the World Cup last summer. She remains a mainstay of the team.
6. Josh Taylor
From the moment the Prestonpans fighter won gold at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow a world title seemed to be his destiny. His first fight in the professional ranks was in 2015 which, of course, he won. He kept winning, emphatically and classily. He was a natural in there, a clever, elusive and relentless fighting machine.
His 15th bout, in 2019, was against Ivan ‘The Beast’ Baranchyk for the IBF world light-welterweight title, an event that doubled as the World Boxing Super Series semi-final. Baranchyk came to the Hydro in Glasgow with a formidable reputation and an unbeaten record. Taylor put him away on points to become the world champion he had always dreamed of becoming.
The World Series final was against the reigning WBA and WBA champion, Regis Prograis. The American, never slow in trumpeting his own greatness, had an unblemished record – 24 fights, 24 wins, 80% of them by knockout. Taylor proved too much for him in an epic battle, a scrap of the ages. Taylor cemented his place in Scottish boxing history that night. There’s more to come from him. A whole lot more.
A most extraordinary decade ended in scandal when he pleaded guilty to racially abusing and acting in a threatening and abusive manner towards a nightclub doorman while on a boozy night out in Edinburgh. He spoke publicly about his embarrassment and his remorse. He said he felt “ashamed” by his actions. In the future you’d hope he saves the aggression for the gym and the ring, where he is imperious.
5. Jamie Murray
The elder Murray has won 23 titles worldwide. He’s made it to four Grand Slam doubles finals and seven Grand Slam mixed doubles finals. In the decade about to end he’s been Australian Open doubles champion with Bruno Soares in 2016, US Open doubles champion with Soares also in 2016, Wimbledon mixed doubles champion with Martina Hingis in 2017 and US Open mixed doubles champion with Hingis in 2017 and with Bethanie Mattek-Sands in 2018 and 2019.
Along with the mixed doubles he won with Jelena Jankovic at Wimbledon in 2007, Murray has won seven Grand Slam titles, six of them in the last decade. It’s an incredible haul. Murray was ranked world number one in doubles in 2016, the year after he helped win the Davis Cup alongside his brother. The Dunblane boys teamed up in a key doubles match against Belgium and prevailed to send Great Britain on course for a historic victory, their first in the Davis Cup since 1936 when Fred Perry and Bunny Austin were in their pomp.
The 2015 team was captained by another Scot, Leon Smith. With one exception, coaches and managers were ruled out of the top 50, but had they been included then Smith wouldn’t have been far away. Murray Sr, however, was always a shoo-in.
4. Ricky Burns
Scottish boxing is rightly in thrall to Josh Taylor and the thrilling duo Lee McGregor and Kash Farooq, but Ricky Burns led the way in the decade, achieving something only three other British fighters have ever done – none of them Scottish – when winning world titles in three weight divisions.
Burns fights on, though his star is fading. No matter, it shone for long enough. He became world junior lightweight champion when beating the undefeated champion Romain Martinez at the Kelvin Hall in 2010. That fight was Burns in microcosm. Down in the first round, he got back up, showed what a big heart he had, and deservedly won on points.
In 2012 he entered the lightweight world and won another title. His fight against the dangerous Aussie Michael Katsidis at Wembley Arena was the one that made him double world champion. Burns was the underdog, but that never put him off before.
When Burns lost three fights out of four from March 2014 to May 2015 you wondered where he was heading next. The answer came soon enough. He moved to light-welterweight and beat Michele di Rocco to take another title, dominating the Italian and stopping him in the eighth round. Burns has lost three of his past five fights and the age of 36 there are plenty in the game who’d like to see him call time on his career to protect his fantastic legacy. He says he’ll be back in the ring next year, though. However he fares, the fact is that Burns in his peak years was very special indeed.
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Ricky Burns became Scotland’s first three-weight world champion in 2016
3. Sir Alex Ferguson
The great man’s best work might have come in the 1980s, the 1990s and the 2000s, but he did more than enough in the early part of this decade to warrant a place in the top three. How could you leave him out? He managed Manchester United to his fourth League Cup in 2010 and his 12th and 13th Premier League title in 2011 and 2013, the year he bowed out after 27 trophy-laden years that will never be matched no matter who fetches up at Old Trafford in the decades to come.
Since he led United to an 11-point victory in his last Premier League campaign the club has appointed four managers, spent vast fortunes on players and yet has finished seventh, fourth, fifth, sixth, second and sixth. Trying to replace him has proven every bit as as traumatic for the club as it was when Matt Busby left the same post all those years earlier. Ferguson casts a long shadow.
He was Manager of the Year in England in 2011 and 2013 and survived a massive health scare in 2018. Not even a brain haemorrhage could stop him in his tracks. He’s got to be the greatest football manager there has ever been. A force of nature. Still.
2. Andy Robertson
The Liverpool full-back’s first season in senior football ended in the grim anonymity of a 3-1 loss at Peterhead as his Queen’s Park team were trying and failing to get out of Scotland’s Third Division. His decade will end at a different club in a different league in a different country and a different footballing planet.
Robertson’s journey from Queen’s Park to Dundee United to Hull and then onwards to Anfield in an £8m deal that could go down as one of greatest bargains in the history of the Premier League has been Hollywood-esque. He’s now managed by one of the most charismatic leaders in the world game, Jurgen Klopp, and is a critical member of a thrillingly exciting team.
He is a European Cup winner and barring a major upset he will also be a Premier League winner come May. Maybe – just maybe – he’ll be getting ready to play for Scotland in their first major championships in 22 years by then. The play-offs for Euro 2020 are in March. On this dizzying ride, Robertson has also become captain of his country.
There’s no doubting that Robertson is one of football’s most respected left-backs. Klopp wouldn’t trade him for anybody. With his heart and pace and wonderful ability to deliver assists he has become a darling of the Liverpool fans. He’s only 25. There’s a lot more left in him at the very highest level.
1. Andy Murray
Was his place at the top of the list ever in doubt? No. We’ve been privileged to watch him over the past 10 years. His list of achievements hardly needs spelling out but let’s do it anyway. In an age that has produced the three greatest winning machines the game has ever known – Roger Federer with 20 Grand Slams, Rafael Nadal with 19 and Novak Djokovic with 16 – Murray won three of his own, made the final of eight others and lost in semi-finals on another 10 occasions – five of the defeats coming against Nadal, two against Djokovic and one against Federer.
Murray’s consistency was outrageous. On top of the US Open win in 2012 (he was the first British player to win it since 1936) and the Wimbledon titles in 2013 (again, the first British male to win it since 1936) and 2016, he won two Olympic gold medals and a Davis Cup, and got himself to world number one. He has won 46 titles worldwide and you can only imagine how many he might have won had he not been born into the most competitive era of all time. The fact that winning titles has been so hard in the Federer, Nadal, Djokovic era actually makes his victories all the sweeter and all the more impressive.
It’s not just his tennis that stands out, though. Murray has spoken out about doping in his sport and he has spoken up for women in tennis. His has been a powerful and influential voice. The past few years haven’t been fun as his body started to break down, but he’s still hanging in there. In 2019 he made a critically acclaimed documentary about his life, his career and his return from surgery. Sadly, Murray has had to withdraw from January’s Australian Open.
Even if he never wins another tournament he’s given us all the most fantastic time following him. A boy from Dunblane who conquered the tennis world. Truly the stuff of greatness.
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