Tuesday, 26 January 2010

When It Came To The "Crunch" ... 2008 Was Rotten To The Stinking Core !

So, onto the penultimate year in this marathon look at the last decade. For the home nations, the European football championships were a bit of a non-event, after none of their teams qualified. Probably just as well, because no one could have even afforded to travel to support their team, or even gone to the pub to watch them; as the worst financial period since the 1930’s was experienced. People would do anything to get their hands on money, including taking their own children hostage or faking their own death to cash in their life insurance. Just two of the headline stories from 2008 !


The start of the year was one of doom and gloom in the news. Not only was the threat of recession on the tips of economists tongues, but more freak weather akin to the summer previous wreaked havoc, once again flooding properties; along with gale force winds to make matters worse.

There was little to cheer in the world of the celebrity (of which the public had become obsessed by as the noughties wore on). Children’s television presenter Mark Speight was arrested in January after his fiancĂ© was found dead at their home, although he was not charged. Speight took his own life just three months later, and was found hanging close to Paddington Station. Britney Spears was once again drawing the wrong kind of publicity, as she was stretchered from her U.S. mansion, and was later remanded in police custody over a dispute involving her children. Australian actor, Heath Ledger’s sudden death from an accidental overdose of prescription drugs saw worldwide mourning from his legions of fans, while in March, newsreader Carol Barnes was taken seriously ill with a stroke, and passed away in hospital a few days later, the latest in a series of high profile names who found themselves in the obituaries columns in 2008. Even more unpleasant news followed in the summer as the self proclaimed “Paedophile of Pop”, Gary Glitter returned to England, but at the airport it wasn’t autograph hunters looking for his signature, but the Home Office, as he was forced to sign on the sex offenders register.

A somewhat impoverished family from the West Yorkshire town of Dewsbury took centre stage, after reports that eleven year old Shannon Matthews had disappeared. Following heartfelt television appeals, fund raising events and hundreds of thousands of pounds and hours of police time, it was discovered that it had been staged by her mother, Karen. The family were widely condemned, and won few friends, particularly when it later emerged that Shannon’s step father, a somewhat tawdry looking youth, was found in possession of sordid images (some of juveniles). He was convicted with charges relating to pornography, while later, in December, Karen Matthews was found guilty of kidnap and was jailed, showing little remorse for her disgraceful behaviour.

We learned of the shocking revelations of a dysfunctional Austrian family in 2008, with 73 year old father Josef Fritzl confessing to imprisoning his daughter in a cellar for 24 years, and fathering her seven children. His despicable deeds also extended to burning the body of a baby who died at the house in Amstetten.

In a foolish, and ill thought out act of fraud, “back from the dead canoeist” John Darwin, who had faked his own death almost a decade before, was jailed, along with his wife Anne. They were sentenced to more than six years imprisonment each, after they had wrongly claimed £250,000 in life insurance policies.

The worst fears were confirmed regarding financial meltdown when, in August, “Lehman Brothers” bank filed for bankruptcy in the U.S. while at home, “H.B.O.S.” entered into merger talks with “Lloyds” to prevent its collapse. The banks were bailed out with government (ultimately tax payers) intervention, but still their shares fell, and interest rates were slashed to all time lows. The property market was in a turbulent state; “Stamp Duty” was axed on homes costing less than £175,000 in an attempt to bolster sales. The uncertainty also saw a volatile month surrounding activity in the stock market.

In a puerile prank, B.B.C. big money stars Jonathon Ross and Russell Brand were suspended after making obscene phone calls to veteran actor Andrew Sachs. The corporation ended up apologising to the former “Fawlty Towers” star. Brand resigned from his duties, while Ross was suspended until well into the following year. It could be argued though that the media attention kick started Sachs’ career, after he landed a regular role in long running I.T.V. soap “Coronation Street”.

After what seemed like years of debating, voters in the U.S.A. finally voted to elect their first black President, Barrack Obama, with victory over Republican candidate, John McCain. There was more than enough media coverage surrounding the event to last a lifetime and I feel that it requires no more column space here !


New Year – same old story, as the “X-Factor” winner remained at the top into January. Downloads helped some rather offbeat hits into the singles chart, such as “Soulja Boy Tell ‘Em’s” “Crank That (Soulja Boy)” and “Nickelback’s” seemingly endless spell in the Top 40 with “Rockstar”. Debut acts had dominant stretches at number one in the singles chart in January and February. Firstly, Swedish D.J. and Producer, “Basshunter” had five weeks at the summit with “Now You’re Gone”. Then it was the turn of soul singer “Duffy” who also had five weeks at the top with “Mercy”. Meanwhile, “Snow Patrol” made history as their single “Chasing Cars” became the second most charted single in the history of the charts, with 68 consecutive weeks inside the Top 75.

Just as January and February had been dominated by two acts taking the number one slot, so too were March and April. The refreshing urban sounds of U.S. songstress “Estelle” landed her the top spot for five weeks; while “Madonna” knocked her off the top to claim number one for four weeks with a little help from Justin Timberlake and Timbaland; with “4 Minutes”, which continued with the disco influence of her 2005 album “Confessions On A Dancefloor”. Although it did not reach the top, “House Singer” Sam Sparro’sBlack And Gold” made it to number two in April, and it lingered around the charts and received huge air play throughout the year.

May 2008 saw a remarkable debut album titled “We Started Nothing” from “Ting Tings” who landed at the top of the album chart, and their second single, “That’s Not My Name” also made it to the top of its chart in the same week. Dance act “Mint Royale” scored their first singles chart number one, and indeed their first top twenty chart entry since “Don’t Falter” back in 2000 with a remix of “Singing In The Rain”. This came after their remix version sold strongly via downloads, thanks to being used by the “Britain’s Got Talent” winner George Sampson in his high-octane dance routine.

The integrity of the “Eurovision Song Contest” once again came into question, after allegations of tactical voting from some nations. The U.K., represented by former “X-Factor” runner up Andy Abraham received a mere fourteen points, placing a clear last. B.B.C. host and mainstay of the competition for more years than anyone would care to remember, Terry Wogan, threatened to wash his hands of the event; and there were questions from the wider audience regarding whether the U.K. would indeed bother to enter in future contests.

Despite being one of the most popular mainstream groups of the nineties, with millions of album sales behind them, it was not until June 2008 that “Coldplay” enjoyed their first U.K. singles chart number one. “Viva La Vida” was top for just one week, although the album of the same name was number one for six weeks, and sold over 300,000 copies in the first week of release alone.

The big hits of the summer were from one hit wonder “Kid Rock” with “All Summer Long”, which used heavy sampling of “Lynard Skynardclassic “Sweet Home Alabama”. Calvin Harris assisted “Dizzee Rascal” with “Dance Wiv Me” to land the top spot in July. However, American singer-songwriter Katy Perry had probably the most memorable – and controversial chart topper of the year with “I Kissed A Girl” which was cemented on top for five weeks in August. American rockers “Kings Of Leon” waited almost a decade for their first chart topper, but had a monster hit with “Sex on Fire”, which is still in the top 60 of the singles chart to this day (January 25th 2010). It is also the second most downloaded single of all time.

As the nights drew in, the “X-Factor” began to take centre stage once more, and following a guest performance on the show, “Girls Aloud” had a number one with “The Promise”, following up their top five hit “Can’t Speak French” from earlier in the year. The “X-Factor Finalists” also joined forces to cover the Mariah Carey hit “Hero” which was number one for three weeks, benefitting the “Help For Heroes” and “Royal British Legion” charities. December was also an “X-Factor” benefit, with the previous years winner, Leona Lewis, enjoying a fortnight at the pinnacle of the charts with a cover of “Snow Patrols” former chart smash “Run”. While the incoming winner of the contest, Alexandra Burke took the now traditional Christmas number one slot with “Hallelujah”, which was yet another cover version of a tired old hit. Although there were grumblings, the once a year c.d. buyers were more than happy to line the pockets of Simon Cowell, with what have been described as little more than “trumped up karaoke stars” singing “music for braindeads” – and – “songs which were crap first time around !

In all, the music of 2008 was perhaps a more balanced selection of Indy, Pop, Dance and manufactured acts. Thanks to the growth of downloads, and in a trend against practically every other market, sales of both albums and singles grew significantly against the previous few years, to the tune, on average of over 20,000 copies of number one singles on average a week compared with 2007. However, apathy against “X-Factor” domination, particularly of the festive number one slot was certainly on the rise, as we shall find out next time !


It was not a happy year to be an England fan. For the first time since the 1994 World Cup, they failed to qualify for the forthcoming major tournament (Euro 2008). Their fate lay in the hands of other results after losing the qualifier against Russia 2-1 (the first England International game to be played on a synthetic pitch). The following month, their misery was further compounded in the last qualifying game, losing 3-2 to Croatia at Wembley, despite goals from Frank Lampard and Peter Crouch pulling the score back to two all, having gone two goals down in the first fifteen minutes. Justifiably, manager Steve McClaren was sacked the following day, and Fabio Capello was appointed as the new boss on the 7th January 2008. To touch on the Euro 2008 tournament, Spain finally shook off their tag as “nearly men” in major international tournaments, beating Germany in the final 1-0.

Manchester United retained the Premiership, a record tenth win, and their seventeenth top flight title. For the first time in many years, final day results decided the outcome of the league, although a 2-0 win for United against Wigan was good enough to take the title, regardless of other results. Chelsea were runners up, and in an all too familiar top four, Liverpool and Arsenal took third and fourth respectively, while Everton, who arguably were the over-achievers of the season, managed a fine fifth place. Despite the obvious disappointment for Chelsea at being so close to taking the title, it was perhaps a miracle that they were even within touching distance of United, as the little known Avram Grant had been hastily installed as their manager in mid-September 2007, following the resignation of Jose Mourinho, who had fallen out of favour with “Blues” supremo Roman Abramovich.

The three teams going down had only enjoyed a brief flirtation with the Premier League this time around. Reading and Birmingham City both went down after dogged campaigns, but Derby went down with an appalling record. They were not only the first team in Premier League history to be assured of relegation before the end of March, but also accumulated only a miserable eleven points, which was also another unwanted historic record to their name. Following their disappointing defeat in the play offs the season before, this time West Brom made no mistake and secured automatic promotion from “The Championship” winning the division. Joining them were Stoke, who had endured a 23 year absence from the top flight, and top tier “virgins” Hull City, who beat Bristol City in the play off final, the only goal in a 1-0 win coming from 39 year old veteran, Dean Windass. This also ended their “claim to fame” of being from the biggest city in Europe never to have had a top flight football team. Going down to “League One” were Colchester United and Scunthorpe United, both of whom had only been promoted to the “Championship” the year before. Joining them, in a surprise relegation though, were Leicester City, who had been a solid Premiership team only seven seasons earlier.

The F.A. Cup saw a less than familiar line up, with Portsmouth taking on Cardiff City. Unfortunately, the encounter was somewhat stale with negative tactics and few chances, the solitary goal coming from Nwankwo Kanu in the 1-0 win for “Pompy”. The usual “giant killings” were in evidence, with Chelsea crashing out to Barnsley in the quarter finals, who had also defeated Liverpool 2-1 in the previous round, with a Brian Howard stoppage time winner putting out the Anfield club. Liverpool themselves had already been given an almighty shock by lowly “Blue Square Conference South” outfit Havant & Waterlooville, who had twice taken the lead in their fourth round tie at Anfield, although the Merseysiders did come back to win 5-2 in a less than convincing display ! In the first “Carling Cup” final to be held at the new Wembley, Tottenham Hotspur got their hands on their first piece of silverware since they won the same trophy in 1999. An extra time goal from defender Jonathon Woodgate winning the game, which had been deadlocked at 1-1 after ninety minutes, as “SpursDimitar Berbatov had cancelled out Didier Drogba’s early strike.

In other stories relating to English football, Newcastle’s controversial midfield star Joey Barton was jailed following being found guilty of assault following an altercation in a fast food restaurant. Paul “Gazza” Gascoigne also endured further tribulations in his personal life, which had dogged him since his retirement, as he ended up being sectioned for the second time, for his own safety. A story more memorable for the right reasons was the 150th anniversary celebrations of Sheffield F.C.; the world’s oldest football club. They were rewarded with an all star friendly encounter with Inter Milan as a special birthday present for the tiny amateur side.

The Champions League was an enthralling competition, and any doubters of the strength of the English Premier League would be well advised to look at the performances of the teams involved in the competition in 2006/07. Arsenal thrashed Slavia Prague 7-0, while Liverpool crushed Besiktas 8-0 in a record win in the competition. All four English sides reached the quarter final stages – Liverpool eliminated Arsenal at this stage, but went on to lose to Chelsea in the semi final (to avenge defeat at the same stage the year before). This set up the “Blues” in an all English final with Manchester United, which was the first time this had occurred in the Champions League (or its predecessors). In a repeat of the Community Shield earlier in the season, the game was deadlocked at 1-1 after extra time, and United took the tie 3-0 on penalties. The U.E.F.A. cup was less fruitful for English club sides, with all of them eliminated at the quarter final stages or earlier.

Like their English counterparts, the race for the Scottish Premier League was decided on the final day of the season. The last day of the season was actually changed from 18th May to 22nd May, for a number of reasons: postponements in the winter due to bad weather; Rangers’ progression to the U.E.F.A. Cup final; and the tragic death of Motherwell’s Phil O’Donnell who passed away after collapsing in the match against Dundee United. Celtic were crowned champions again, for the third season in a row, beating Dundee United 1-0 at Tannadice, with Jan Venegoor of Hesselink the sole scorer. Meanwhile, Rangers who had needed a win at Aberdeen on the final day, or a draw, should Celtic falter, somehow managed to lose 2-0, so they ended up second in the final standings, three points shy of Celtic. Motherwell had a good season, and were the best of the none “Old Firm” teams in third, albeit 29 points shy of the leaders.

Gretna, following their meteoric rise to the Premier League with three promotions in as many years had a woeful season. They had been unable to play their home games at Raydale Park as the ground did not meet the minimum criteria stipulated by the league rulings, so they had been ground sharing Fir Park with Motherwell, a good fifty miles away. (With the exception of one game which was played at Almondvale, the home of Livingston F.C.) Gretna ended the season on an unlucky thirteen points, 27 off the total of eleventh placed team Kilmarnock, largely due to the deduction of ten points as they entered administration. Not only were they relegated, but they firstly dropped to the Third Division, but shortly after a winding up order was put on the club, their fall from grace was complete with a total resignation from the Scottish Football League. Taking their place in the Scottish Premier League in 2008/09 would be First Division champions, Hamilton Academical.

First Division side Queen of the South could be proud of their efforts, reaching the final of the Scottish Cup, and giving Rangers a scare, but succumbing 3-2 on the day. They were however rewarded with entrance into the following seasons U.E.F.A. Cup, as Rangers had already qualified for European competition. In a riveting League Cup final, Rangers again took the honours, beating Dundee United 3-2, although they did need the extra 30 minutes to beat off the determined Tayside club. Rangers also made it to a third cup final, with the unfancied Glaswegians playing in the U.E.F.A. Cup against Russian outfit Zenit St. Petersburg in Manchester. They were beaten 2-0 on the night, but it was an evening remembered unfortunately for the behaviour of a number of mindless morons who were set on causing lager-fuelled hooliganism and subversive thuggery in the city. This minority spoiled what should have been celebrated as a great achievement for the club, much as the scenes in Seville had been in 2003 for city rivals Celtic. Other Scottish clubs in Europe didn’t fare particularly badly, Celtic did come through their Champions League group, but were eliminated in the first knock out round by Barcelona, after a strong display in what was a tough encounter. Aberdeen exceeded all hopes by getting through the group stages in the U.E.F.A. Cup, and were, as anticipated convincingly beaten in the first knock out round by German giants Bayern Munich. Dunfermline Athletic’s European adventure was a short one, going out 2-1 over two legs to Swedish minnows BK Hacken.

Wales came to the forefront in Rugby Union, beating allcomers in the “Six Nations” championships on their way to a grand slam victory. The transformation of the W.R.U. had seen a surprising turn of fortunes for a proud rugby nation who had seen their team in the doldrums for many seasons, as they made it a brace of championships in only four seasons. Wales also set a new record for the least tries conceded in the tournament, leaking only two, which smashed England’s record of four against them in a single year. England were runners up, an improvement from their failings in the recent years leading up to 2008, but Ireland disappointed, slipping to fourth in the standings, with their only wins a less than convincing 16-11 victory over bottom side Italy, and fifth placed Scotland.

In his first fight in the U.S.A., Joe Calzaghe defeated Bernard Hopkins for the World Light Heavyweight title, in a twelve round split decision. The Welshman’s run of unbeaten title fights continued in November, when he beat Roy Jones Jnr at Madison Square Gardens in a twelve round unanimous decision, taking his run to 46 bouts without loss.

The names of the major steeple chase winners are familiar ones, “Denman” took the “Cheltenham Gold Cup” and the “Grand National” was won by “Comply or Die”. On the flat circuit, “Henrythenavigator” was the “2000 Guineas” champion; “New Approach”, the “Derby” winner and the “St. Leger” was taken by “Conduit”.

In the first of 2008’s golf majors, the “U.S. Masters”, South African Trevor Immelman landed his first title, by a three stroke margin. Tiger Woods won his fourteenth major title with victory in the “U.S. Open”, after coming through an eighteen hole play off, and then sudden death in a hard fought win over determined runner up Rocco Mediate. The second half of the calendar was a memorable and prosperous one for Irishman Padraig Harrington, who landed back to back majors, taking the “Open” at Royal Birkdale and also the “P.G.A. Championship”. It was not such a happy event for European golfers and their fans in the “Ryder Cup” though, as the U.S.A. regained the trophy, with their sixteen and a half points eclipsing the eleven and a half from the Europe team.

In Formula One, McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton made amends for the last gasp disappointment of 2008 and landed the championship in only his second year of participation. The final race of the season, Brazil, was a thrilling one, as a downpour on the final lap saw Hamilton overtake Toyota’s Timo Glock at the last corner to land the championship by a single point from Ferrari’s Felipe Massa; whose team were already celebrating the title, somewhat prematurely ! Ferrari did, however, enjoy the consolation of the Manufacturers championship, their first honours since the retirement of Michael Schumacher. Although we did not learn the facts until 2009, Renault allegedly ordered their second driver, Nelson Piquet Jr. to deliberately crash at the new Valencia street circuit. This action, the most controversial incident of the year, allowed his team mate, Fernando Alonso to take a much needed victory. In the top level of motorcycle racing, after an unusual two years without a title, it was a return to form for Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi, who cruised to the championship without too much drama; unlike his crash-happy kamikaze team mate Jorge Lorenzo, who tasted the tarmac (and hospital food) on too many occasions throughout the season to mention here !

Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer made the major tennis finals an almost exclusive club, winning all but the “Australian Open” (taken down by Novak Djokovic) between them. In the “French OpenNadal beat Federer, a feat he followed up shortly after at “Wimbledon”. In the “U.S. Open”, Scotsman Andy Murray came close to taking the competition, but was outgunned at the last hurdle by Federer, for whom it was third time lucky in a 2008 final ! Once again, the ladies final at “Wimbledon” was an all Williams affair, with Venus putting one over on Serena; who made amends in the final of the “U.S. Open”, defeating Jelena Jankovic to finish the year on a winning note.

So, not much to write home about really, was it ? On the news front there was little optimism as a new year dawned, which we shall examine next time.

Thanks for reading,
Mountain Man


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