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The downer Down Under

Tom Fordyce | 13:22 GMT, Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Just when you thought you'd had all your Christmas presents, you wake up to find another beauty left under the tree.

Rip off the wrapping paper, and there it is - Australia's sporting supremacy, smashed into hundreds of tiny pieces.

For sports fans around the world, battered into weary submission by years of Australian dominance, the sight is as sweet as it is surprising.

A first home cricketing series defeat in 16 years? Allowing a touring team to successfully chase down 414 in the fourth innings, and then escape from 184-7 to 459 all out in the next match?

It isn't meant to be like this. Ordinarily, Australian conquers while Britons capitulate. They do the exercise, we do the eating. They do the success, we do the self-deprecation.


But South Africa's triumph over Ricky Ponting's boys, and the preceding series defeat in India, are only two aspects of it.

There's a decent argument that this has been the worst sporting year in Australian history.

Linger, unless you're in green and gold, on the following results from 2008 - the ultimate austrannus horribilis, if you will.

  • Sixth place in the Olympics medal table - an acceptable showing unless you see where Great Britain finished. It's hard to say what must have been more painful - failing to win a single men's swimming gold, or having to watch your sports minister don a Team GB tracksuit top
  • Losing the rugby league World Cup for the first time since 1975, to a side beaten 30-6 in the tournament's opening game, and then having coach Ricky Stuart quit in disgrace after being caught abusing the match officials
  • Being beaten in football World Cup qualifiers by China and Iraq
  • Not having a single male or female tennis player ranked in the world's top 50
  • Having an Aussie golfer leading the Open going into the final round, only for him to then to card a seven-over-par 77 to finish six shots behind the winner

It gets worse. You might have missed it at the time, but Australia also lost both matches in the annual International Rules Football contest against Ireland (Aussie Rules meets Gaelic Football).

The mulleted Simon Whitlock was vanquished by Wales's Mark Webster in the final of the BDO world darts championships, while Australia's only Grand Prix driver, Mark Webber, broke his leg cycling at his own charity event.

And while the Wallabies might have gained partial revenge for their World Cup defeats by England with the thrashing at Twickenham in November, they were also spanked by the All Blacks in their last three meetings.


Now - all this may just be a blip, a freakish one-off never to be repeated.

Cricket fans in particular will be wary of celebrating too loudly, fearful that, like a monster in a horror film, the Aussie corpse will suddenly flick open an eye and stagger to its feet, roaring wildly before devouring every Englishman within reach.

It's happened before. Look what followed last time anyone dared dream that the beast had been slain, after the Ashes in 2005 - it went back into its cave, re-grew all the severed limbs and ripped England to shreds in the following series.

It's also not as if British sport had a year untainted by failure. The England cricket team were also dismantled at home by South Africa and away in India, while its rugby team in both codes went from bad to worse.

Then again, what about Lewis Hamilton? Wales's rugby team? Scotland's Chris Hoy? Not to mention the other 46 Olympic medallists?

It was the business in Beijing which seemed to hurt Australians most.

As sports writer John Birmingham wrote in his Olympic blog, "Frankly I don't care where we sit on the tally as long as it's somewhere in front of those gappy-toothed sock and sandal wearing (expletive deleted to comply with revised BBC guidelines)."

Christmas is a time for overindulging in a guilt-free manner. So with that in mind, enjoy this unprecedented Aussie anguish as much as you like, unfettered by fears of what might happen next year.

Australia - allow the rest of the sporting world this brief moment in the sun. We have every expectation that we'll be eating humble pie for Christmas dinner this time in 2009.

Until then, let the schadenfreude flow.


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