2015 in sport: Davids take on the Goliaths

The last twelve months have seen a huge variety of British sporting achievements. Is strength in depth what makes the United Kingdom such a successful sporting nation?

It was the year when Chelsea won their fifth league title, and when England Women’s football team came third in the World Cup — their most successful tournament ever. Later on during the summer England won the Ashes with a crushing victory over Australia in Nottingham.

Moving into autumn we had the Rugby World Cup, where Wales stunned England at Twickenham, leading to the hosts’ early exit from the competition; and just three weeks ago Tyson Fury beat Vladimir Klitschko to win the World Heavyweight Title in boxing’s biggest shock in years.

This year has been most notable for the underachievement of the ‘big teams’ and the success of the underdogs. Let us start with football: since their Premier League triumph Chelsea have been abysmal, and it is unlikely that whoever wins the league this year will be remembered as one of English football’s great teams.

Instead the biggest stories have been the rise of Leicester City from relegation certainties in May to the top of the league after, appropriately enough, a win against Chelsea, and Bournemouth’s promotion to the top flight: just seven years ago they were facing relegation into the fifth tier of English football.

England’s football team have been quietly consistent, but the success of Wales and Northern Ireland has generated more excitement, as did the England Women at the World Cup in Canada.

Despite the advantage of hosting the tournament, England crashed out early in a Rugby World Cup whose most memorable game saw Japan defeat South Africa in what many saw as the competition’s greatest shock ever. Nobody gave Tyson Fury a chance against Vladimir Klitschko, but the controversial boxer defied odds of 9/2 to win the fight. An outsider even won the Grand National — Many Clouds at 25/1.

In tennis, Andy Murray won no grand slams, but Murray and his brother Jamie helped Great Britain win the Davis Cup, tennis’s team competition, for the first time since 1936.

David defeats Goliath

There were no memorable sporting moments in 2015, say some. Yes, hardcore boxing fans may remember Fury’s win and football anoraks will look back fondly on Leicester City, but this was a year without iconic moments such as Mo Farah winning gold or England winning the World Cup. These events draw in those who would not usually be interested and bind a nation together in a sports-mad frenzy. Nothing in 2015 did this.

But fans of the Welsh and Northern Irish football teams, as well as keen tennis fans, would radically disagree. When we look back at the last twelve months we will see it as a turning point in British sport: while the giants struggled, the underdogs proved that strength in depth is British sport’s greatest attribute.

You Decide

  1. Which sporting moments from 2015, if any, will you remember by the time you are 70?
  2. Imagine if David Cameron announced a year-long ban on all sport for 2016. How different, if at all, would Britain be?

Activities

  1. Write down three sporting predictions for 2016 and put them in an envelope. Open them on 1 January 2017 to see how many you got right.
  2. Take up one new sport for 2016 and keep a diary on your progress.

Some People Say...

“There’s too much sport nowadays.”

What do you think?

Q & A

What if I don’t care about sport?
There are hundreds of sports out there, so if you look hard enough you will find at least one you enjoy playing or following. And there is much more to sport than the game itself. Sport is rich in history and symbolism, and this was evident in the public show of unity at the England v France football match played just after the Paris attacks.
What do we have to look forward to in 2016?
Two massive events in the summer: Europe’s 24 best national football teams will be pitted against each other in the European Championships in France; and just three weeks later the 31st Summer Olympics get going in Rio de Janeiro, followed by the Paralympics in September. Also watch out for golf’s Ryder Cup in September / October; and cricket’s ICC World Twenty20 in March.

Word Watch

Ashes
England eventually won the Ashes 3-2, but it was a strange series devoid of close matches. The Ashes win came between a drawn series with New Zealand and a defeat to Pakistan.
Wales and Northern Ireland
Both countries, whose combined population is smaller than London’s, qualified for Euro 2016. Northern Ireland have not qualified for a major tournament since 1986, while Wales have to go back to the 1958 World Cup.
Controversial
Fury, who is of Irish traveller heritage and calls himself the ‘Gypsy King’, has been criticised for making sexist and homophobic comments. A petition to have him removed from the Sports Personality of the Year shortlist has garnered 135,000 signatures.
Grand National
Held at Aintree in Liverpool, the Grand National is one of Britain’s three most followed horse races. The others are the Derby, held at Epsom, and the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Davis Cup
The one tennis tournament where players represent their countries. Each team selects four players. For Great Britain it was Andy and Jamie Murray, Kyle Edmund and Jamie Ward.

Subjects

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