1. Steven Gerrard
Liverpool fans have long known it was coming, but had hoped it never would. So great has been their reliance on Steven Gerrard over the years, the local lad-turned talismanic club-captain, that saying goodbye and drawing a line in the sand after 17 years of loyal service was never going to be easy. This is particularly the case when he is still capable of the kind of match-winning performances that last week prevented Liverpool from being the subject of an embarrassing FA Cup Third Round upset to enterprising League Two side AFC Wimbledon.
At 34, Gerrard may no longer be the swashbuckling box-to-box midfielder of a decade ago, but his presence on and off the pitch is no less vital. His range of passing and set pieces remain exemplary, while as an ambassador for Liverpool and a link to the past ñ the sole remaining member both of the 2000/2001 treble winning squad and the miracle of Istanbul in 2005, his departure will be sorely felt. Gerrard has surely earned the right to continue playing in the MLS, where like Beckham and Henry before him, his class will be self-evident. But will Liverpool be able to cope without their beating heart?
2. Women’s Football World Cup
Englandís Women will face their first major tournament without Hope Powell in almost 17 years after the popular coach was sacked 18 months ago. Her replacement, the conspicuously male Mark Sampson, is already under pressure to outdo her, not least because of the controversy courted by his appointment.
Despite claims that Sampson’s presence undermines the values of the womenís game, there are plenty more concerning areas on the pitch that require focus. Everton keeper Rachel Brown-Finnis has called time on her international career, while Arsenal striker Kelly Smith has been in and out of the side due to injury. A 3-0 defeat to Germany last time out will have knocked their confidence somewhat, though that should not overshadow a fantastic achievement in their 100% record in qualifying for the World Cup.
The result will no doubt serve as a harsh reminder of the standards they must reach when up against the big sides, especially after suffering heartache in 2013, when they were knocked out of the Euros without winning a match.
3. Rugby World Cup comes to England
England will look to the class of 2003 for inspiration as Stuart Lancaster’s young team play host to the Rugby World Cup in the autumn. After a disappointing test series to close 2014, which was ravaged by injuries to key players, February’s Six Nations tournament will be a crucial indicator of their prospects in a mouth-watering Pool A, which also features Warren Gatland’s Wales, and an Australian side no doubt eager to avenge Jonny Wilkinson’s drop goal in the final minute of extra time on the Wallabies’ home turf.
Wilkinson’s playing days are long since over, but the tussle between Owen Farrell (Saracens) and George Ford (Bath) to succeed him at fly-half is likely to be one of the key talking points in the build-up. If England can make their home advantage count, they should not be underestimated and stand a good chance of advancing. Just how far is another matter altogether.
4. ICC World Cup
England fans have the agony and the ecstasy of a Cricket World Cup to look forward to. For a large section of the Three Lionsí support, there is more hope of the latter in light of Alistair Cookís removal as ODI captain, paving the way for his replacement, Eoin Morgan, to usher in a new era for the much-maligned one-day side.
Once again, the England and Wales Cricket Board appear unsure of their favoured starting XI as the clock ticks down to boarding time for Australia and New Zealand. Nottinghamshire’s wicket-keeper batsman James Taylor should be the biggest winner of 2015, having finally earned a recall to the national side. The weight of expectancy hangs similarly heavily on the shoulders of Joe Root, who will presumably be the favourite for the captaincy should Morgan fail.
5. Sebastian Vettel at Ferrari
19 years on from Michael Schumacherís arrival amid Ferrari’s longest ever title drought, Sebastien Vettel will hope that he can be the man to bring the Scuderia a similar turnaround in fortunes after years of underachievement. Without a title since 2007, Ferrari’s persistent failure to provide Fernando Alonso with a car worthy of his talents has seen the Spaniard finally lose patience and depart for McLaren, leaving a Vettel-sized hole alongside Kimi Raikkonen for 2015.
The German was outshone by team-mate Daniel Ricciardo more often than not last year, but he’s not a four-time champion for nothing. If Ferrari can finally put the pieces of the puzzle into place, we could see Vettel back to his dominant best. Flying the Red Bull nest will undoubtedly be the biggest challenge he has faced in his career to date. Can he win over the Tifosi?
6. Derby Day
No academic year at UEA would be complete without fuelling the bitter rivalry with Essex on Derby Day. With every sports club across the two universities going head-to-head, UEA Pool Clubís Josh Edwards was the hero last year as UEA registered their first away win since 2004.
With the benefit of a home advantage, the Yellows will be favourites to retain their crown this year, with the UEA Pirates American football team having already prevailed over the Essex Blades in the league to retain their unbeaten status atop the BUCS East division. For comprehensive coverage of the highlight of the UEA sporting calendar, make sure to follow the UEA Media Collective @Concrete_UEA, @Livewire1350 and @UEATV.