Countries, people and places: The A to Z of sport in 2015.


A.     Apia, The Samoan capital was the opening venue for the All Blacks test campaign of 2015 which commenced in July with a 25-16 triumph over the hosts. The pinnacle for the Richie McCaw-led Kiwis came with a 17-point victory in London over the Wallabies to claim a record third Rugby World Cup. Despite the Samoan tour getting under-written by a local backer games like these should be considered more by tier one countries. Even with the international calendar set up until 2019 surely it wouldn’t be that hard for say France, South Africa, Australia and England to put their heads together to visit each of the Cook Islands, Fiji, Samoa, and Tonga over the course of the next four years up until the next World Cup to be held in Japan.

B.     Simon Brodkin. The British comedian, who goes by the stage name Lee Nelson, flung dollar bills at Fifa overlord Sepp Blatter during a July press conference. Cheers Simon we can all drink to that comedy!

C.     Chambers Bay. The golf course in Washington State copped plenty of flak as host of the US Open golf major in June of this year. From tricky greens to rough which had 45 degree angles, the course was criticised by many players. It also proved unpopular with some fans who had paid over $200 a ticket when they couldn’t get near many of the greens. That said the challenge of a new course as opposed to regular PGA Tour stops which tend to be on the same courses year on year is worthwhile and interesting for viewers. The tournament was won by American Jordan Spieth who also claimed the Masters this year.

D.     Kumar Dharmasena. Dharmasena along with Tim Robinson were the on-field umpires when Ben Stokes became the first English cricketer to be dismissed under Law 37 for obstructing the field in a one-day international. During the game against Australia at Lord’s in September Australian keeper Matthew Wade was vociferous in his appeal after Stokes spun around but threw his hand up and (looking the other way) was struck by the ball hurled towards the stumps by bowler Mitchell Starc endeavouring to get a run out. Third umpire Joel Wilson called it out after the two on-field officials sent the decision upstairs. Stokes is allowed to stave off injury in avoiding the ball. Under the laws of the game a player is out obstructing the field “as defined in Law 33.1, he willfully strikes the ball with (i) a hand not holding the bat, unless this is in order to avoid injury.” Australia won the match and eventually the series 3-2. Cricket was the winner etc etc.

E.     ESPN. The major Disney-backed sports broadcasting network let go two of their best presenters from the TV, podcast and on-line platforms when first Bill Simmons and then Keith Olbermann didn’t have their contracts renewed. The Worldwide leader also had prominent radio/tv host Colin Cowherd depart in 2015. Simmons reminds us, and still does on his new platforms, to not let the ‘theme of the week’ die. Whilst Olbermann is like a sports history lesson, condensing topics into a TV friendly format but in a way which often made me go out and read more about the subjects. Some of their best work is here for Simmons and here for Olbermann. ESPN also axed the Simmons-inspired Grantland which provided a great platform for long form reads on a range of sporting and pop culture topics.

F.     Flemington. When Michelle Payne rode Prince of Penzance to victory in the Melbourne Cup at Australia’s headquarters of thoroughbred racing the jockey broke a range of records, highlighted by being the first female jockey to win the multi-million dollar feature. The Darren Weir-trained galloper was assisted on race-day by Payne’s brother Stevie. Michelle Payne was a group one-winning jockey before this but this win catapulted her into Australian history.

G.     Gatlin. Justin Gatlin. The US sprinter barred from track and field twice in his career for anti-doping violations won a stack of races in 2015 including the Diamond League season finale in Brussels, but he was beaten by Jamaican star Usain Bolt in both the 100 and 200 metres at the world championships in Beijing during August.

H.     Ben Hunt, The Brisbane halfback, who had exceeded expectations all season in the NRL, made a collection of errors in the grand final as North Queensland won 17-16 in extra-time. Hunt’s last misjudgment saw him drop ball from the kick-off of the extra-time period to give the Cowboys great field position to see their co-captain Johnathan Thurston pilot over the winning field-goal in the decider in Sydney.

I.     In passing, international cricketer and broadcaster Richie Benaud plus Frank Tyson, Clive Rice, Ken and Tom Graveney; legendary Australian thoroughbred trainer Bart Cummings, jockey Tim Bell, and trackwork rider Friederike Ruhle; Olympic track and field star Ron Clarke; broadcasters Sir Peter O’Sullevan and Jimmy Hill, English jockey Pat Eddery, rugby union legend Jonah Lomu and fellow former All Blacks Norm Berryman and Jerry Collins plus Quirindi player Nicholas Tooth and Devon’s Lily Partridge; rugby league players James Ackerman, Regan Grieve, Hayden Butler, Welsh international Danny Jones, English referee Chris Leatherbarrow and former Great Britain representative Derek Turner; Adelaide Crows AFL coach Phil Walsh; Russian tennis player Violetta Degtiareva; legendary Yankee baseballer Yogi Berra and New Zealand representative Lincoln Holdzkom; motorsport’s Jules Bianchi, Justin Wilson and Michal Hernik; football’s Howard Kendall; pioneering golfers Calvin Peete and Louise Suggs; Olympic triathlete and coach Laurent Vidal; boxers Braydon Smith from Queensland and NSW’s David Browne.

J.     Billy Joel, The American rock star’s tune ‘We didn’t start the fire’ was the inspiration for one of the great sporting promos of all time. Ahead of the Ashes cricket series Joel’s 1989 hit featured on Sky Sports UK recounting the past glories and of the now almost annual series of the two cricketing rivals. England won the 2015 edition of the series 3-2 with an innings victory at The Oval.

K.     Kazakhstan. The nation’s pro cycling team Astana were ‘very much on probation’ heading into 2015 for various offences according to the UCI. Asides from doping rumours the team plumbed new depths of cheating this year when Vincenzo Niabli was thrown off the Vuelta Espana for getting an extended tow during the second stage.

L.     Lynch, Loretta Lynch. Dramatic arrests in May and December in Zurich catapulted the scale of FIFA graft and corruption (and yes we can us that without the alleged word because former members of the FIFA Executive Committee have rolled over and squealed in evidence) back into the consciousness of world sport. Almost a constant theme for well over a decade it took until the USA Attorney General Lynch became the face of the multi-national investigation that the whole scale of the controversy was laid bare. Formerly reporters like Andrew Jennings had found key pieces of evidence but the USA and other authorities ability to follow the money will be the key in the potential jail time for many of the figures involved in the scams.

M.     Manning, Kerryn Manning. Like 30 year-old jockey Michelle Payne, Manning made history with the equine this year. The fellow Victorian won the New Zealand Trotting Cup in Christchurch and was the first female to triumph in the event in the sulky. In wining with Arden Rooney it was also the first time an Australian-trained pacer had won the New Zealand feature since 1987.

N.     Neal. Hamish Neal. Me. Amazingly I shaved off some time from my 2014 effort in the Lake Macquarie Half Marathon. After trundling around in 1hr38.40 I ‘scorched’ the course in 1hr36.42 this August.

O.     Osborne. Elizabeth Osborne. The mother of Australian surfer Mick Fanning was the most relieved parent watching their children compete in sport during 2015 after August when the triple world champion was attacked by a Shark whilst competing at Jeffrey’s Bay in South Africa. Fellow Australian Julian Wilson turned his attention from winning the final they were competing to surfing towards Fanning to aide him but event officials were quickly on the scene. Sadly for the family they lost Fanning’s brother Peter in December due to an enlarged heart during Fanning’s final event for the year when he was chasing the world title.

P.     Parma, The prominent Italian football club were declared bankrupt and dropped out of the professional game in June. The club couldn’t pay the 22.6 million Euros worth of debt which was due then out of a total debt 75 million Euros. The club once of Gianluigi Buffon, Fabio Cannavarro, and Juan Sebastian Veron who won the 1999 UEFA Cup final are now residents of the fourth tier of Italian football. A salient lesson for all top sporting clubs.

Q.     Queensland. The glittering Gold Coast in the Australian state of Queensland is apparently “ahead of schedule and under budget” for the Commonwealth Games which they are hosting in 2018. I know, don’t laugh, a major sporting event ahead of schedule and not costing more than originally planned!

R.     Royals, After San Francisco edged them 4-3 in the 2014 World Series the American League’s Royals saw off the Mets. Making their fourth World Series appearance the Kansas City-based side losing game three of the series 9-3. Venezuelan catcher Salvador Perez from the Royals was named MVP in the 4-1 series triumph.

S.     Serbia, Featuring for the first time at football’s Under 20 World Cup the Balkan nation claimed the title with a win over Brazil in the final. In a tournament which saw Argentina tipped out in the group stages the decider in Albany on Auckland’s north shore was settled in extra-time when Nemanja Maksimovic struck in the 118th minute to seal a 2-1 shock triumph. Adama Traore of Ligue 1 side AS Monaco won the tournament MVP as his nation, Mali, finished third.

T.     Trump. Donald Trump is probably a better golfer than former North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il but it’s a close run thing in the terms of ‘bad human stakes’ between the duo (Yes I realise KJ2 was actually a tyrant) but the wannabe USA president has reasonable sway in the world of golf and it needs to end. The PGA Tour, LPGA and other groups connected to him must take away tournaments he is connected with. Get your best legal minds on it so it doesn’t cost you a bomb but sort it out.

U.     United Passions, in case other major film-makers or production houses were thinking that a movie about the office goings-on of a sporting organisation (even a dodgy one) would be their next block-buster project this film, funded by FIFA to the tune of US$32 million, might have had them thinking twice. It grossed US$918 (yes $918, no million) in a limited opening weekend release in the USA and was panned in the Hollywood Reporter review as a “poorly executed propaganda piece that has all the excitement of a PowerPoint presentation”.

V.     Vancouver. The Canadian city hosted the final of the women’s World Cup won 5-2 by the USA. Japan was down and out after the Jill Ellis-coached outfit raced to a 4-0 lead after 16 minutes which included a 13-minute hat-trick to Carli Lloyd. The regeneration of this side was already underway prior to this win with players like the now retired legend Abby Wambach used off the bench throughout the tournament. One disappointment out of the tournament is the hugely impressive English players, who came third and were unlucky not to make the final, can’t make the Rio Olympic football tournament as Great Britain (who were given exemption as hosts of the 2012) won’t be around in Brazil. Add Welsh star Jess Fishlock to the England team at Rio and they would nearly start favourites.

W.     World Cups. In a year of pinnacle events Australia claimed world titles in men’s one-day international cricket and women’s netball beating New Zealand on both occasions in final’s at home in Melbourne and Sydney respectively. It wasn’t a world cup but Australia’s women’s cricket side (the Southern Stars) won the Ashes 10-6 under the points format inclusive of three ODIs, three T20s and a standalone test.

X.     Player X. In our 2014 edition we discussed the match-fixing case of former New Zealand cricketer Lou Vincent. The dynamic batsmen was a key witness for the prosecution in the nine-week case of perjury against fellow New Zealand international Chris Cairns held in London’s Southwark Crown Court. Ex Kiwi all-rounder Cairns, along with co-defendant Andrew Fitch-Holland, were cleared of all charges in late November.

Y.     Yokohama. Barcelona won the FIFA Club World Cup final over South American champs River Plate in the Japanese city. Multiple-bitter and sometimes racist Luis Suarez scored five goals in Barcelona’s two games in the tournament. It won’t be recognised as a top sporting effort of 2015 because of the general contempt in which the tournament is held, but it’s a terrific performance nonetheless.

Z.     Zadunaisky. Bender Zadunaisky. The fictional con-man was referenced to Alec Luhn when the Guardian journalist encountered a security guard at the Moscow anti-doping facility when the journalist endeavoured to visit the facility as Russia’s alleged state-sponsored doping program was exposed. Luhn’s insight in intruiguing. Others nations were also put on notice over doping violations and standards plus newly-elected IAAF President Lord Sebastian Coe has many questions to answer as the sport unravels at the highest levels.

About Hamish Neal

Born in Lower Hutt New Zealand Hamish is forever wedded to all things All Black, All Whites, Tall Blacks and more. Writing more nowadays in his 'spare time' (what is that anyway?) but still with a passion for broadcasting. Has worked in various sports development roles in England, Northern Ireland and Australia.


  1. Greay alphabet soup.

    The Stokes one is a beauty. Fair minded people of all persuasions see it differently. Out, for mine. And happy if the Aussies then recalled him.

  2. Thanks Cranky Pete. You make a good point about Stokes dismissal. Deliberation between the umpires was itself a good indication.

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