The year 2015 was another entertaining and eventful one across the world of sport, with our Kitbag team keeping a keen eye on the big events at home and further afield. To conclude a year which saw new stars born, legends forged, records broken and memories made to last a lifetime, let us take you on a journey across the past 12 months, as we pull out some of the highlights of this sporting year.
January’s football headlines were dominated by the re-opening of the transfer window and the run-up to the annual Deadline Day circus. Cutting in ahead of their Premier League rivals, the biggest business of the window was conducted by Manuel Pellegrini’s Manchester City, who completed a £28 million swoop for Swansea City striker Wilfried Bony. It was an eventful month for the Ivory Coast international, who would be involved in the first major tournament of the year shortly thereafter.
The 2015 African Cup of Nations in Equatorial Guinea saw the Central African hosts (stepping in for Morocco in the wake of the Ebola crisis) denied an opening day victory by a late Congo equaliser. Some 40,000 spectators watched the 1-1 draw, with both nations eventually going all the way to the semi-finals. However, it was Bony and his Ivory Coast brethren who would eventually lift the trophy, winning a dramatic penalty shoot-out 9-8 at the expense of runners-up Ghana.
February was a significant sporting month across the pond, as two of America’s most high-profile annual showdowns were settled in late and dramatic fashion. At the University of Phoenix Stadium in Arizona, a crowd of more than 70,000 saw the New England Patriots’ fourth-quarter rally settle Super Bowl XLIX in their favour. New England’s 28-24 triumph was their first Super Bowl success in a decade; the Massachusetts-based franchise inspired by star quarterback Tom Brady, whose 37 completions established a new record for the NFL showpiece.
New York’s Madison Square Garden meanwhile provided the setting for the annual NBA All-Star Game and a fourth win for the Western Conference in five attempts. With Russell Westbrook of Oklahoma City Thunder playing his way to MVP honours, the West ran out 163-158 winners, with their crucial five-point winning margin established in the final quarter, after the third ended level at 122 apiece.
March was all about bragging rights, as neighbours and rivals went head-to-head. In football, an all-London affair at Wembley saw Chelsea beat Tottenham Hotspur in the Capital One Cup Final; avenging their defeat from the 2008 final in the process. Goals from John Terry and Diego Costa handed the Blues a 2-0 triumph and the first silverware for manager José Mourinho since returning to the club in 2013. Few could foresee how 2015 would pan out for the polarising Portuguese coach.
On the other side of the planet, the 2015 Cricket World Cup culminated with a showdown in the Melbourne sun between co-hosts Australia and New Zealand; the latter making their first ever appearance in a final. A record one-day crowd of over 93,000 saw the Aussies win by seven wickets, securing their record-extending fifth championship title. The Kiwis however would exact some delicious revenge later in the year when sporting hostilities switched to the oval ball.
An athletic April saw two major races staged on either side of the Atlantic, with the ultra-prolific African contingent reaffirming their standing as the kings and queens of distance running.
On America’s east coast, the historic Boston Marathon saw victories for Ethiopia’s Lelisa Desisa and Kenya’s Caroline Rotich continue a run of dominance disrupted only rarely across the past decade. Preparations for this latest edition of the evergreen road race had been blighted by adverse weather conditions, including significant snowfall, yet the marathon still attracted some 30,000 entrants, including representatives of all 50 American states.
Six days later, in what had been promoted as the ‘Clash of the Champions’ due to its high number of medal contenders, Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge edged out compatriot Wilson Kipsang by a mere five seconds to win the London Marathon’s men’s race, while Ethiopia’s Tigist Tufa won a women’s contest particularly notable for the swansong of former winner Paula Radcliffe. Ten years on from her 2005 victory, Radcliffe remains the last British runner to win either of the elite foot races.
May proved to be a milestone month for professional boxing, not least for the Pacquaio/Mayweather super fight that shattered all previous records to become the highest-grossing pay-per-view event of all time. Of specific British interest, rising stars James DeGale and Lee Selby would win IBF gold on consecutive Saturdays, leading the way for a parade of new champions including Terry Flanagan (WBO Lightweight), Anthony Crolla (WBA Lightweight), Lee Haskins (IBF Bantamweight), Liam Smith (WBO Super Bantamweight) and Tyson Fury (WBA/WBO/Ring World Heavyweight).
Back on the football field, London re-asserted its dominance of the domestic scene, with Eden Hazard’s strike in their 1-0 win over Crystal Palace confirming Chelsea’s fourth title in a decade before Arsenal secured their record 12th FA Cup at the expense of Aston Villa. Traditionally the main event of the English footballing calendar, the Wembley final, which retained its contentious 5.15pm start time, proved a cakewalk for Arsene Wenger’s Gunners, with Theo Walcott, Alexis Sánchez, Per Mertesacker and Olivier Giroud all on target in the 4-0 walkover win.
Creeping over into the month of June, the European football season enjoyed a fitting final hurrah with an entertaining UEFA Champions League Final at Berlin’s Olympiastadion. In a classic meeting of La Liga and Serie A heavyweights, goals from Ivan Rakitić, Luis Suárez and Neymar steered Barcelona to an eventual 3-1 win over opponents Juventus, who claimed the undesirable record of a sixth European Cup Final defeat. For Barça, it was another era-defining success and one which would set up a thrilling Super Cup win over Spanish adversaries Sevilla later in the summer.
Over in America, basketball’s Golden State Warriors meanwhile clinched their first NBA Championship in 40 years with a105-97 Game Six win over Eastern kingpins the Cleveland Cavaliers. Of historical note, the Warriors were the first franchise in almost a quarter of a century to win without any prior NBA Finals experience in their team; a spell stretching back to the rise of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and the 1991 Chicago Bulls.
July was a time for national pride, as the England ladies’ football team flew the flag in the latter stages of the FIFA Women’s World Cup. The first international tournament to adopt Hawkeye goal line technology, controversy was pleasingly absent from an England campaign conversely awash with drama; not least the own goal heartbreak of Laura Bassett that settled the semi-final in the favour of opponents Japan. Undeterred, the Lionesses would roar back to defeat Germany for the first time in their history, securing a highly-credible third-placed finish across the water in Canada.
Back on European shores, July was dominated by cycling’s Tour de France, where further cause of celebration could be found. Launching in the picturesque Dutch town of Utrecht on 4th July, the 102nd Tour would take up a gruelling 21 days of the month; covering a jaw-dropping 2,000+ miles ahead of its final stop in the French capital. For British bike enthusiasts, Le Tour would contribute another of 2015’s highlights, as Team Sky rider Chris Froome pedalled his way to victory for the second time since switching his allegiance to the United Kingdom in 2008. With the sport
Australia was in full focus during the month of August, as the pendulum of elation and despair swung dramatically for the sporting stars of the Southern Hemisphere.
Having established a 2-1 lead with their wins at Sophia Gardens and Edgbaston, victory in the Fourth Test at Trent Bridge saw England avenge their whitewash of 2013 and regain the Ashes at Australia’s expense; an outcome that levelled matters at 32 all-time series wins apiece. Of particular chagrin for the Aussies was the Fourth Test’s opening inning, which saw a rampant England dismiss their foes en masse from just 111 balls; a Test match record achieved in little more than 90 minutes’ play.
In golf conversely, Queensland’s Jason Day made his mark on 2015 by winning the year’s final major tournament. Breaking up a period of American dominance that saw Jordan Spieth and Zach Johnson lay claim to the year’s other three, the 27-year old Day captured the PGA Championship at Wisconsin’s Whistling Straits with a record score of -20; foreshadowing his rise to World #1 status.
Records continued to tumble as September’s leaves would fall, with Wayne Rooney netting his 50th international goal for England against Switzerland at Wembley to surpass Bobby Charlton as the nation’s all-time record goalscorer. On the continent meanwhile, Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo hovered menacingly over a host of goalscoring feats; each of which achieved with the degree of inevitability befitting the world’s greatest player.
Over in Germany, the Kitbag team were on hand in Baden-Württemberg to see the United States win the Solheim Cup at a rain-ravaged St. Leon-Rot course. Despite the testing conditions, there was no lack of drama in this 14th edition of the transatlantic matchplay contest, with the European ladies edged out 14 ½ to 13 ½ in the closest outcome in the biennial competition’s history.
Fans were transfixed in October as an All Black final curtain fell on a Rugby World Cup characterised by thrilling action, as well as its fair share of controversy. A fitting farewell for the outgoing Dan Carter, New Zealand became the first side to retain the Webb Ellis Trophy and the only to win the tournament on three separate occasions. For many neutrals though, the fondest memory of RWC 2015 will be the 34-32 upset that saw Japan topple ex-champions South Africa in the Pool Stage; the Cherry Blossoms’ first ever victory against a Tier 1 rugby nation.
October also saw the long-awaited arrival of ‘Back to the Future Day’; but the film franchise’s 1989 prophecy of World Series success for the Chicago Cubs fell agonisingly short, in spite of a run that carried them all the way to the preceding National League Championship Series. Blighted by the ongoing ‘Curse of the Billy Goat’, the Cubbies were swept 4-0 by the New York Mets in the NLCS; with their final, decisive defeat coming on the actual day of 21st October itself. It was the bitterest of ironies for Cubs fans, as their drought of 70 years without a World Series appearance continued.
British achievement resumed in November, with the nation’s greatest modern driver proving his mettle on the grid for another season. Having secured pole position in eleven of his first 12 races and steering his way to a podium finish in all but two of the 19 championship meetings, Lewis Hamilton stormed through the field to retain the F1 World Drivers’ Championship, while his Mercedes team secured their second straight Constructors’ Championship. Hamilton’s legend continues to grow.
In the Premier League meanwhile, a new hero would inscribe his signature into the history books, as Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy eclipsed Ruud van Nisterlrooy’s feat of scoring for ten consecutive outings in the English top flight. The former Fleetwood, Halifax and Stocksbridge striker fired home the opener in the 1-1 draw with Manchester United, continuing a run that helped the Foxes claw their way from 5,000-1 outsiders to the peak of the Premier League tree this Christmas.
Finally, December capped a landmark year for British tennis with the country’s first Davis Cup success in almost 80 years of play. After racking up knockout victories over the United States, France and Australia, Great Britain’s climactic win over Belgium secured their first silverware in the team event since 1936, while launching pivotal point-winner Andy Murray to BBC Sports Personality of the Year honours for the second time in his career.
In addition, the draw for 2016 European Championship saw the United Kingdom become a divided one, with England and Wales paired together in a major tournament for the first time in their history. The neighbouring nations were dropped into a tricky Group B during the Paris draw, which also handed Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland tough tests for next summer. Kitbag.com will have full analysis and build-up to the Euro 2016 tournament in the New Year, along with features on a number of the key events across the sporting calendar.
What have been your sporting highlights of 2015? Who have been your stars of the year? Tweet us at @KitbagUK to let us know…