2016 – International Year of the Underdog


According to Chinese Astrology, 2016, is considered the Year of the Monkey. Sports fans however, may well remember 2016 as the Year of the Underdog. Across the globe we have seen long standing droughts broken and unlikely winners across a number of competitions.

In English football, Leicester City – considered a 5000-1 chance at the start of the season – surprised everyone, and possibly even themselves, to claim their first top flight Championship. Pakistan, the nomads of world cricket because they are unable to play internationals at home, claimed the ICC Mace as Test Cricket’s Number One team. In the NBA, LeBron James led the Cleveland Cavaliers to their first NBA title, and thus ended the city’s 147 season long championship drought across US major sports.

The phenomenon was in effect in Australia too. In the A-League, Adelaide United – without a win after 8 Rounds – recovered to win their first crown. In the AFL, the Western Bulldogs ended the League’s longest current premiership drought with their first title since 1954 and Cronulla snared their maiden NRL Premiership in their 50th season.


Baseball’s World Series will add another name to this rag-tag list of Cinderella’s and Fairy Tales. The Chicago Cubs, owner of the longest championship drought in the history of the Major League, and Cleveland Indians, owners of the second longest current drought in the Major League, will square off in this year’s Fall Classic. Whichever team comes out on top, a long suffering supporter base will taste success after decades of despair. To try and put some perspective to how long both teams have waited, let’s take a look at the differences between now and the years in which Chicago and Cleveland last revelled in World Series glory.


In 1908, on the back of a team jam packed with Hall of Famers – Mordecai Brown, Frank Chance, Johnny Evers and Joe Tinker – Chicago comprehensively defeated Detroit in the World Series for the second year in a row. Despite returning to the World Series another seven times between 1909 and 1945, the Cubs are yet to return the trophy home to Chicago.

When Boss Schmidt was thrown out at first base to end the 1908 World Series, Australia had been a Federated Commonwealth of States for a mere seven years and had a population of 4.2mil. Unlike today, the country only consisted of six states, the Northern Territory was at this stage part of South Australia and the ACT was proposed but not yet created. Alfred Deakin was Prime Minister, leading a Protectionist Party Government, the parliament he led sat in Melbourne’s Exhibition Building. Melbourne serving as the nation’s capital until Parliament House was established in the yet to be established city, Canberra, in 1927.


When Andrew Fisher wrestled the Prime Ministership from Deakin on the Parliament floor in November he became only the fifth man to serve as Australian Prime Minister. Eleven future PM’s had yet to be born and two –  William McMahon and Harold Holt – had only been born that year. Australia’s most famous man, Sir Donald Bradman, was also born that year as was Victoria’s longest serving Premier Henry Bolte.

The founder of the Liberal Party and Australia’s longest serving Prime Minister, Robert Menzies, was 12-years-old as was the Duke of York, the future King George VI, father of Queen Elizabeth II. Herbert Asquith, the man destined to take Great Britain and Australia into World War I, was the UK Prime Minister.

Republican nominee William Howard Taft defeated Democrat William Jennings Bryan in the US Presidential Election. Taft would be inaugurated in March 1909, replacing the outgoing Theodore Roosevelt who had completed his full two terms as President.

A 19-year-old Adolph Hitler was homeless and twice rejected from Vienna’s Academy of Fine Arts, his dreams of life in the arts in tatters. Another 19-year-old, Dorothea Mackellar, proudly wrote of her love of a ‘sunburnt country’ in the iconic and patriotic poem My Country.

The first full length feature film ever made, The Story of the Kelly Gang, was made only two years earlier. Ned Kelly, the main subject of the movie, had been executed for his crimes 30 years earlier but his mother and younger brother were still alive in 1908 when the film it made its premiere in the UK.

Most would realise without prompting that it was a world without television, mobile phones, Facebook or twitter. The Wright Brothers’ first manned flight took place only five years earlier, Women’s Suffrage was only fully realised in Australia this year and it was also a time before sliced bread, zippers, pop-up toasters, hair-dryers or the esky.


In sport, the first Heavyweight Boxing Title bout ever hosted in Australia took place when Canadian Tommy Burns defeated Australia’s Bill Squires at Sydney Stadium. Burns wasn’t so lucky when he defended the belt against Jack Johnson at the same venue later in the year, Johnson winning a TKO when police stopped the bout.

South Sydney won the first ever Rugby League premiership defeating an Eastern Suburbs team containing the games’ first great – Dally Messenger. The first Kangaroo tour took place at the end of the season but, despite Messenger’s heroics including a penalty goal from 75 yards, Great Britain won the series 2-0.

Carlton, led by the games’ first super coach Jack Worrall, completed a hat-trick of VFL Premierships with a hard fought 9-point victory over Essendon in the Grand Final. The Blues’ third title saw them move within one title of the League’s first powerhouse, Fitzroy’s, all-time mark of 4 Premierships. Richmond and University had only joined the competition this season and the League had yet to be graced by Footscray, Hawthorn and North Melbourne, let alone any team beyond Victoria’s borders.

A Monty Noble led Australia regained the Ashes with a 4-1 series win over England in Australia. The stars for the Australian’s were Warwick Armstrong with the bat and Jack Saunders with the ball.

The Wallabies won Gold at the London Olympics and had yet to lose a Bledisloe Cup Test Match. They had lost 4 of 5 Test played with the All-Blacks though, only breaking the losing streak with a 5-5 draw. Lord Bledisloe’s desire for a Trophy to be presented to the winner of these matches was still decades away. In 1908, like Rugby League’s Kangaroos, they toured Europe losing to Wales and defeating England in the two test matches played.


In a personal sense, my Great Grandfather Daniel Boyle was still a young hurling player in Ireland. In 1908 he and a few others founded the Dunloy Cuchullains Gaelic Sporting Club. Dunloy, about an hour north of Belfast, is now a town in Northern Ireland but in Daniel’s time it was still part of an un-partitioned Ireland under British rule. By the time of the Free-state’s independence and partition, Daniel had taken the chance on a new life in a far-away land and had settled in Melbourne where he would begin his, and my, family.


The Indians claimed the crown after 6 gripping games against the Boston Braves. A baseball record crowd of 86,288 crammed Cleveland Stadium to watch their Indians one win away from the crown. They left disappointed this day with the Braves staving off elimination, but they were able to welcome home the trophy after Cleveland defeated Boston at Braves Park in Game 6.

Only a few months earlier the most famous duck in Test Cricket history was scored. Cricket’s most consistently brilliant batsman, Australian Captain Don Bradman, ending his career with a second ball dismissal in his final innings. His innings coming at the end of the most extraordinary of tours, the Invincibles as they became known, not losing a match on tour and retaining the Ashes 4-0.

In the VFL, the first ever drawn Grand Final was played out between Melbourne and Essendon. The Bombers wayward kicking in the draw, the kick 7.27, was punished with Melbourne claiming their sixth Premiership with a comprehensive 39-point victory in the replay. Bill Morris of Richmond won the Brownlow Medal.


In Sydney, Western Suburbs defeated their now joint venture partners, Balmain, for the NSWRL Premiership. A 40m solo effort try from the Magpies’ Kevin Hansen the decisive score in a soggy decider played at the Sydney Sports Ground.

Both the Kangaroos and Wallabies undertook tours of Britain. The Kangaroos lost their battle for Rugby League’s Ashes 3-0, while the Wallabies lost Tests to Wales and France either side of a victory over England.

Australia won two gold medals at the Olympics held in London. John Winter winning the High Jump and Mervyn Wood leading home the field in the Single Sculls. Shirley Strickland also won her first Olympic Medals with Silver in the 4 x 100m and Bronze in the 100m and 80m hurdles.

Alice Cooper, Prince Charles, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Cat Stevens, Robert Plant and George R. R. Martin were all welcomed into the world. Holden began manufacture in Australia, the first Polaroid cameras became available, the modern bikini began hitting beaches around the world and Scrabble went on sale for the first time.


Hamlet won the Best Picture Oscar, its star Laurence Olivier won Best Actor with Jane Wyman claiming the Best Actress Statuette for Johnny Belinda. The most popular movies of the year were The Red Shoes, The Three Musketeers and Red River while Bing Crosby was Hollywood’s biggest grossing actor.

Ben Chifley led a Labor Government in Canberra, the following year Robert Menzies would lead the Liberal Party to election victory, signalling the beginning of 23-years of Liberal rule.

Harry Trueman was President of the United States, Clement Atlee was in the middle of his six-year term as UK Prime Minister separating Winston Churchill’s two residences at 10 Downing Street.

Both teams last tasted success in a world completely foreign to the one in which we live in today. For one group of supporters, just one best of seven series stands between them and a major reward for their loyalty, through several generations in the wilderness. For the other unfortunately, their long wait will continue.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s