…We are gathered here today to mourn the passing of 2011.
Well, OK, I’m a bit late joining in the annual nostalgia-fest – I’ve seen, read and heard enough retrospectives to last me a lifetime (or at least another 12 months. Which I hope will be the shorter period).
For most people interested in what’s going on in the world – and particularly for journalists – 2011 was the newsiest year of all time. Comparisons were drawn with 1989 – the year Communist regimes in Europe collapsed and the scars which divided the continent began to heal. In 2011, it was Arab states which underwent similar transformation, while, ironically, the European debt crisis split the region in two once more – this time between the have-nots and the have-even-less.
The most unusual aspect of 2011 was the way the huge global stories just kept on coming – the live-tweeted deaths of Osama bin Laden and Muammar Gadaffi, the devastating tsunami in Japan, the arrest of Ratko Mladic, the senseless bombing and shootings in Oslo. In Britain, the year opened with the departure of government spin doctor Andy Coulson – the only man to resign twice over something he knew nothing about – and closed with signs of the first major split in the coalition, over Europe.
But here’s 11 events and news stories which had an impact on me personally and professionally…
1. January 7 – Aussie cricket cremated in Ashes >>
How sweet this was for all English cricket fans. The little urn had already been retained but England’s vast superiority in the 2010-11 Ashes series in Australia wouldn’t have been underscored quite as effectively without a win in the last test in Sydney. Quite appropriately, the fifth match turned into a microcosm of the gulf between the two sides – Australia were bowled out cheaply again before England pummeled them into the ground with the bat, making an incredible 644 for a first innings lead of 364. The bowlers did the rest in the second innings and England completed a near-flawless humiliation of Australia, the sort the Aussies had been dishing out on our soil during my early cricket-watching days. Very satisfying.
2. April 2 – 900 and counting for Darren Baker >>
Comparisons with Ryan Giggs aren’t as favourable now as they once were, but a less-heralded (and certainly less well-paid) player reached a phenomenal landmark in April that even the Welsh wing wizard himself is yet to achieve. Darren Baker, a 36-year-old printer who plays for part-time Conference side Eastbourne Borough, made his 900th appearance for the club in a Blue Square Bet Premier match at Southport. To date, Giggs has reached 892 for Manchester United – Baker is now on 932…
3. April 23 – Comedy genius John Sullivan dies >>
The sudden passing of Only Fools and Horses writer John Sullivan saddened me greatly. I had grown up in a house where the show was on almost on loop, thanks to my sitcom-loving dad who had long admired Sullivan and his other hits Citizen Smith, Just Good Friends and Dear John. Being unaware of Sullivan’s ill health, I was shocked when the BBC ‘breaking news’ ticker relayed the news of his death one Saturday morning in April. There’ll be no-one to match his writing.
4. July 7 – End of the World >>
The phone hacking scandal was the story that kept on giving for media-watchers like myself. As the sorry saga unfolded, there were more and more remarkable developments. Hacking victims were many (although perhaps not as many as The Guardian had originally thought) and the fallout claimed the jobs of News International chief Rebekah Brooks, News Corp executive Les Hinton, and even the top two in the Metropolitan Police. But the most stunning development of all came on July 7th when News International announced the News of the World, after 168 years of history, was to close and its final edition would run that forthcoming Sunday. It was perhaps inevitable given how toxic the NOTW brand had become, but nonetheless was a sad and sudden end for a newspaper which had often run outstanding exposes on corruption and scandal in public life.
5. July 15 – Job threat editor reveals wages ‘scandal’ >>
While the national press was preoccupied with naval-gazing, the local newspaper industry continued to flounder and the practice of slashing jobs to please city investors, which began in 2008, continued. Largely, staff culls affecting newspaper offices were only reported on industry websites, but in June Jim Oldfield, editor of the South Yorkshire Times, took the unusual step of publicising his bosses’ plans to cut half the staff on the front page. He later said he was paid just £25,500 a year, despite having almost 40 years in the industry, while also revealing the South Yorkshire Newspapers wages for trainees (£14,000), page designers (£15,000), senior reporters (£18,000) and assistant editors (£24,000). Oldfield reportedly called it ‘a scandal’. He’s not far wrong.
6. July 16 – Seagulls fly into new home >>
Brighton & Hove Albion had waited 14 years for a home to call their own, since the Goldstone Ground was sold off in 1997. After far too long playing at a rented athletics stadium with temporary seating, supporters yearned for a shiny new ground. In July, following years of planning and legal wranglings, the 25,000-seater American Express Community Stadium finally opened its doors, a year later than scheduled. The first-ever match was the Sussex Senior Cup final between Albion’s reserves and Eastbourne Borough – Albion won 2-0 but the result was secondary to the experience as emotional fans got their first glimpse of the club’s brand new home.
7. July 19 – Murdoch ‘humbled’ and then cream pied >>
“This is the must humble day of my life” – words few would have associated with Rupert Murdoch, the world’s premier media magnate. That was until the phone hacking scandal engulfed his empire. With the NOTW mothballed and News Corp’s bid to buyout BSkyB shelved, Murdoch was, possibly for the first time in his life, on the back foot. The grilling of Murdoch and his son James, chairman of News Corp’s European interests, by MPs was tremendous theatre, as the pair unconvincingly tried to bat away questions about the phone hacking scandal. The sense of drama was heightened further when self-proclaimed protestor Jonathan May-Bowles (a.k.a. Jonnie Marbles) broke through limited security and threw a pie made of shaving foam in Murdoch senior’s face. Shortly before his bid for fame, May-Bowles had tweeted: “It is a far better thing that I do now than I have ever done before #splat”. He probably didn’t reckon on being fought off by Murdoch’s wife Wendi Deng – but took it, and the six-week jail term, like a man.
8. July 23 – Amy joins ‘that stupid club’ >>
The so-called ’27 Club’ gained another tragic member in July, when Amy Winehouse – whose battles with drink, drugs and depression were played out in the glare of the tabloid press – succumbed to alcohol poisoning. Robert Johnson, Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and Kurt Cobain were among the talented musicians who died at 27 (when Cobain killed himself, his mother said “Now he’s gone and joined that stupid club“). One of the most naturally gifted singers of her generation, Winehouse sadly joined that list in July, but her fantastically rich voice fortunately remains with us in her powerful songs.
9. October 23 – The demolition derby >>
The Abu Dhabi takeover, the ‘Welcome to Manchester’ poster, the ‘noisy neighbours’ put down – the rivalry between Manchester United and Manchester City had been bubbling up nicely in the last few years. This was the year City became a real thorn in United’s side and emerged as genuine Premier League title contenders for the first time. And, on October 23rd, they unleashed a devastating shot across the bow of their rivals with a spectacular 6-1 win at Old Trafford. Even Sir Alex Ferguson conceded it was the ‘worst result’ in his career. Suddenly, City looked every bit capable of being United’s chief foes in this decade.
10. November 16 – A Sepp too far >>
As if suggesting women footballers wear tighter shorts and advising gay men to abstain from sex in Qatar during the 2022 World Cup wasn’t enough, obstinate Fifa boss Sepp Blatter excelled himself in November. In an interview with CNN, he said there was no racism problem in football and had the nerve to add: “Maybe one of the players has a word or a gesture which is not the correct one, but the one who is affected by that, he should say that ‘this is a game’. We are in a game, and at the end of the game, we shake hands, and this can happen because we have worked so hard against racism and discrimination.” Erm. Right. Just resign, Sepp, it’d be easier.
11. November 27 – Tears for a hero >>
Football was united in grief when Gary Speed, the Wales manager, was found hanged at his home. Less than 24 hours earlier, he had appeared live on BBC One’s Football Focus, speaking positively about Wales’s 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign. Like every football fan, I was stunned when I heard the news. The respect Speed earned from everyone in football was summed up by an emotionally-charged edition of Radio 5 Live’s 606 phone-in, when co-host Robbie Savage, a former team-mate and close friend of Speed’s, broke down in tears.