The year gone was notable for the rewarding of bravery, financial fraud and the death of an old friend

One of the bright spots of 2008 was the award of the president’s medal at the Society of Construction Law to chartered surveyor and arbitrator John Sims. The prize recognises “a significant contribution to promoting understanding of construction law among all those involved in construction”.

This is the first time a chartered surveyor has won this prize; the previous four winners have been senior barristers and High Court judges. And, I tell you, John is a deserving winner. He is a top rank arbitrator, blessed with judgment – that’s the quality that fills all the ravines in the difficult territory of being a dispute decider. Don’t think you can learn to be an arbitrator or adjudicator and baldly, coldly decide other folk’s quarrels. John Sims was born with kid gloves and courage. Courage? Yes. Let me explain …

Another of my favourite people of 2008 was Martin O’Neill, the manager of Aston Villa. I enjoy Match of the Day and pay particular attention to the performance of the referee. The bright spot was almost a throwaway comment by O’Neill. One of his strikers with a real chance of a goal had his shirt yanked by a defender. How come no whistle, no red card, no penalty? “Oh,” said O’Neill, “it was too big a decision for this referee.” Now that struck home with me. Construction arbitrators and adjudicators frequently have to make “big” decisions, but can’t. Sims is one of those who can. A big decision isn’t always about the number of pounds involved. A big decision is one that will be ever so unpopular and yet has to be, nay, must be, made. It takes courage.

I watched Liverpool play Hull recently at Anfield. Hull played brilliantly. Hull players were fouled in the Liverpool penalty area three times but there are few referees who will blow for a penalty with the Liverpool Kop bawling in broad scouse at the bloke being paid to adjudicate.

Adjudication, as the vehicle for deciding complex building and civil engineering disputes, needs better referees. To that end, all credit to the RICS – in 2008 it put a toe in the water to test the idea of mentoring adjudicators. The idea is that an experienced adjudicator will work with a less experienced appointee – not to make decisions but to oversee due process. So much can be achieved by sharpening up practice and procedure.

Brian would never have made an arbitrator or adjudicator because average construction was a no-no to him

Back to Liverpool. Yours truly went to the 2008 European Capital of Culture twice this year. It has an awful lot to be proud of. The city, the Pier Head, the housing redevelopment, the new shopping area – they all look good. The first time, I sat in the Kop for the Paul McCartney concert at Anfield. Paid top price. The Liverpool City of Culture organisers ought to be kicked in the bottom for pretending to put on a live concert. True, he was there, but Tony B was in the Kop and Paul M was down the other end of the ground. He looked about two inches tall. Zero marks.

The second visit was to the national squash championships at the Echo Arena. My companion was Brian Wright. He had been my squash opponent, would you believe, for 31 years. He was a Geoffrey Boycott-model dour Yorkshireman, and he was mightily put out by the quality of the paving work at the building. Mind you, he could not tolerate less than first-rate work. Brian would never have made an arbitrator or adjudicator because average construction was a no-no to him. By the way, he is my gloomy part of this review of 2008 – Brian fell victim to prostate cancer. The treatment failed. This fellow had a big impact on yours truly: he was completely straight. No ducking or diving. No compromise with anything but fact. He would have won the SCL President’s medal, too.

So 2008 was a tricky year. Like every year it had its upsides and downsides. The surprise to me was to lose my sheet anchor confidence in the banking world. It seems some awful fraud has been perpetrated on all of us and these banking shenanigans have injured our construction world in particular. Damn it, it was all going so well. As for 2009, I honestly don’t know. But I honestly wish you well. As for Paul McCartney, Martin O’Neill, Brian Wright and John Sims we need you as sheet anchors. My challenge to you in 2009? Become one … a sheet anchor.

Credit: Simone Lia