Thursday, December 27, 2007


2007: before the dust settles entirely...

Gave a bit of thought to how to write up the year yesterday, while I was pounding out the miles alongside the river (see halloween story if this doesn't ring any bells.)

Simplest thing, I decided, would be to sort out this year's winners and losers.

And here they are:

Winner: English club football

Three teams in the semi-finals of the Champions League? Can't be bad. I thought Liverpool were pretty unlucky in the final against Milan too. Third year running an English team has made the final.

Loser: England

On the other hand, the English national team were so far off the pace, that they've probably assured themselves a "loser's" berth in next year's column as well. The overpaid under achievers that stank up the pitch in the European Championship qualifying campaign will be bringing their mediocrity to the commentary box in next summer's tournament. Be prepared to turn down the volume.

Loser: Real Osaka FC

Having spanked their way to three back-to-back Awaji titles, Real would surely have been contenders for the All-Japan championship that was scheduled for January. Sadly, the plug was pulled on the tournament and Real went on to win precisely sod all this year, losing in the final of the spring Awaji tournament and only managing third place in the autumn tournament. The only gong I won all year was with Murphy's, for crying out loud.

Loser: Gaijin in Japan

With the murder of Lindsay Hawker and the subsequent failure of the police to apprehend her killer for starters, the collapse of NOVA putting everyone out of work as the main course, and the introduction of compulsory fingerprinting and mugshots at immigration (for everyone, including those on a spouse visa), it's been a bit of a difficult year to swallow.

When I poured the brandy over the xmas pudding, I got the feeling that we've never needed so much to burn away a year's luck.

Loser: Sumo

Let's start with the positives: a new yokozuna (sumo's highest rank) and a new Japanese Ozeki (sumo's second-highest rank.)

OK, so the year started with Mongolian Asashoryu the lone yokozuna, as he had been for quite a while. Having never been all that popular in the weeklies (or in general), it was no surprise when stories about bribery and match-fixing popped up ahead of the spring tournament in Osaka. Ho hum, off to a flying start.

Early leader in the Osaka tourny was Japanese ozeki Tochiazuma. Sadly, he retired from the tournament, complaining of crippling headaches. A few days later, it turned out that he would be retiring permanently for health reasons, having suffered what appeared to be a mild stroke. The Osaka tournament went to Mongolian ozeki Hakuho, who won with the much-frowned-upon trick of sidestepping at the start of the crucial bout against Asashoryu. No one was complaining too much though: Asashoryu had done exactly the same thing in his previous bout.

On to the next tournament and Asashoryu had a bit of a nightmare, managing to lose FIVE times and looking badly out of sorts. Hakuho took full advantage, clinching his second successive gong and thereby fulfilling the minimum requirements for a promotion to yokozuna status. The sumo council hastily made it happen and there was finally another yokozuna to challenge Asa's throne.

The next tournament was in Nagoya, where a resurgent Asashoryu defeated Hakuho on the final day to beat local boy Kotomitsuki overall. Koto earned himself a level-up to ozeki, which was a bright spot for Japanese sumo.

Then it all went a bit Christmas panto: Asa took a break from a regional sumo tour in order to recover from a back injury. During the course of his break, he played in a charity football match for, oh, say a couple of minutes? Anyway, this went all over the media and Asa was suspended from the following two grand tournaments for his misdemeanour, as well as losing a bundle of cash and being effectively put under house arrest by the sumo association. Claiming to be stressed and depressed, he was eventually granted leave to return to his native Mongolia after a doctor was found to vouch for the fact that this would aid his recovery. The tabloids had a field day with this one as well.

As a result, Hakuho strolled to the next two tournaments. For those who think that Barry Bonds ought to have an asterisk next to his name in the record books, I submit Hakuho for your consideration (albeit through no fault of his own.)

Anything else? Oh yes...

Well, there were no Japanese applicants to sit the examination to become a trainee sumo wrestler this year. This looked quite a wise decision on the part of Japan's youth when the case emerged of Tokitaizan, a 17-year-old trainee, who died at his stable on June 26th. The stable selflessly offered to have the youngster's remains cremated without the family seeing them, an offer which the family refused. It transpired that Tokitaizan, who had died during training, had previously been savagely beaten with objects including a beer bottle. Quite a training regime, when you consider that sumo is unarmed combat.

The Kyushu tournament, the last of the year was remarkable mainly for empty seats. Quite a disappointment when Kyushu-born ozeki Chiyotaikai had a share of the lead going into the final weekend. The Yomiuri newspaper wisely commented that Kyushu shouldn't be hosting a tournament if there weren't going to be bums on seats and suggested sumo's heartlands of Tohoku and Hokkaido as alternatives. Given the Sumo Council's track record on change, don't expect this any time soon.

A year to forget for sumo, thanks to a catalogue of largely self-inflicted disasters. Best course of action would be to have the heads of the sumo council on a spike, in my opinion. The New Year tournament will see the return of Asa: king of the gaijin. Fingerprint this, bitches!

Winner: the war against drugs in sports

Marion Jones finally came clean about the fact that she, er, wasn't clean; Barry Bonds's record-breaking home run ball got branded with an asterisk to suggest the record is tainted by his alleged drug use, then there was the release of the Mitchell Report; and the Tour De France would have had more credibility if it had been decided by paper-scissors-stone.

Plus Torri Edwards finishing out of the medals in the women's 200 metres in Osaka, although my schadenfreude was somewhat tempered by the fact that Edwards picked up a gold in the relay, not to mention the fact that the gigantic Sri Lankan she-male who pipped Edwards to the bronze in the 200 looked like she had more testosterone in her than the old East German swimming team.

Winner: Facebook

This time last year, the only people I'd ever heard mention Facebook were KJB and Adam; now even my mother's got it. Facebook's phenomenal success is easy to understand: as well as being a very easy way to share photographs it has the "tag" option, which makes it very easy to locate items of interest in other people's albums. It also stomps all over the toes of e-mail, mailing lists and blogging amongst other things.

The groups thing is also great: I'm in Real Osaka, SBA FC and You Don't Like Marmite? You're A Twat, amongst others.

Of course, Facebook is not without its annoyances:

Markiyan took an IQ test

(And, in so doing, gets top marks on the Dan Insecurity Test.)

Namrita has bitten you

(That's a nasty, nasty habit you've got there.)

Find out how alike you are

(The fact that I'm receiving this message shows that we're not.)

Sign up for Funwall

Sign up for Superwall

Sign up for SuperFunwall

Sign up for HIVwall

(I made that one up)

Winner: Dan's waistline

Loser: Dan's hairline

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