Sunday, October 04, 2009
The Ten Wrong Sporting Endings
This piece of mine appears in the Observer Sport Monthly magazine.
From Tom Watson at Turnberry 2009 to Holland in the 1974 World Cup, proof that some results just go the wrong way
1 The Open, 2009
When Tom Watson's tee shot found the middle of the fairway on the 72nd hole of the tournament it seemed that we were on the cusp of the most remarkable sporting story ever. A 59-year-old with a replaced hip, who hadn't won a major for 26 years and who had started the tournament at odds of 1500-1, only needed a four to make the fairytale come true. But Watson's 8ft putt for par came up short and the resulting play-off, in which he was easily defeated by the unheralded Stewart Cink, was one of the great sporting anti-climaxes of all time.
2 First Division, 1975-76
The records say that the title was won by Liverpool, but the season belonged to QPR. The west Londoners played the league's most scintillating football, including a 5-1 demolition of champions Derby County at the Baseball Ground. QPR finished their fixtures ahead of Liverpool and for 10 days were champions elect. Liverpool needed to win their last game, away at Wolves, and when the home side went 1-0 ahead it seemed QPR would take their first league title. But three Liverpool goals in the last 15 minutes shattered their dream.
3 Italian Grand Prix, 1967
Jim Clark, the best driver of the season, led until the 13th lap, but after going into the pits for a wheel change found himself in 16th place. He then delivered what many consider to be one of the greatest performances ever seen on a racetrack. By halfway, Clark had moved up to seventh, and with nine laps to go he was third. Two laps later he had regained the lead. It would have been the most sensational grand prix win of all time, but with just over a lap remaining Clark's car developed fuel problems and he finished third.
4 Prix de l'Abbaye, 2008
It should have been Hungarian racing's finest moment for over a hundred years – the victory of national hero Overdose in Europe's top sprint race. The British-bred colt, unbeaten in his 10 previous races, broke quickly from the stalls and soon powered clear of the field to pass the finishing post in a time just outside of the course record. But to the consternation of romantics everywhere, the race was declared void due to a non-opening stall. Overdose was withdrawn from the re-run, which was won by the French-trained favourite.
5 England v India, the Oval, 1979
India, one down in the series, needed to score 438 in 498 minutes to win the fourth and final test at The Oval. Mission impossible? Led by the brilliant Sunil Gavaskar, who scored 221, the tourists batted heroically, reaching 366-2 at one stage, and with one over to go were 15 shy of the total with two wickets remaining. It would have been the highest score ever chased successfully by a team in the fourth innings of the Test match, but the gallant Indians could only score six in the final over and ended nine runs short.
6 Wimbledon, 1973
Popular British player Roger Taylor had failed in Wimbledon semi-finals in 1967 and 1970. But in 1973, with many of the leading players boycotting the tournament, he looked to have a great opportunity of reaching the final. In an epic quarter-final he beat the 17-year-old Björn Borg: a match famous for Taylor's act of sportsmanship at match point, where, having already been declared the winner, he voluntarily offered to replay the disputed point. Alas, in the semi he lost to clay-court specialist Jan Kodes 9-8, 7-9, 7-5, 4-6, 5-7.
7 World Middleweight title fight, 1951
Two months earlier, Randolph Turpin had caused a sensation when he defeated Sugar Ray Robinson on points to become the first British holder of the world middleweight title for 60 years. In the New York rematch, Robinson started the better, but by the ninth round, he was nursing a nasty cut above his left eye. Fearing that the referee would stop the fight, Robinson launched a furious barrage of blows on his opponent, prompting the official to stop the fight in Sugar Ray's favour with just eight seconds of the 10th round remaining.
8 World Cup final, 1974
With their original brand of Total Football, and inspired by the genius of Johan Cruyff, Holland enchanted the world in the 1974 tournament. En route to the final, the Oranje scored 14 goals and conceded just one: highlights included a 4-0 demolition of Argentina and a 2-0 win over holders Brazil. It only took them two minutes to take the lead in the final against home nation West Germany, but a controversial penalty dragged the Germans level and when Gerd Müller added a second, the tangerine dream turned into a nightmare.
9 Super Bowl, 2009
The Pittsburgh Steelers shared the record for most Super Bowl wins while the Arizona Cardinals had only won five play-off games since 1947. The Cardinals' run to the final had been inspired by veteran Kurt Warner, who had worked as a shelf stacker while waiting for a team to take him on. The Steelers took a 20-7 lead, but, in a blistering spell, their underdog opponents scored 16 points to lead with just over two minutes remaining. Then, with 35 seconds left, the Steelers regained the lead, to register their sixth success.
10 World Snooker Championship, 1994
Perennial bridesmaid Jimmy "The Whirlwind" White, who had been a beaten finalist on five previous occasions, led the final frame against Stephen Hendry 37-24 and had an easy chance to pot the black. Surely this time, "The People's Champion", after so many near-misses, would land the sport's greatest prize? But White missed the pot – he later said he twitched as he took it – and Hendry went on to make a break of 58 to land the fourth of his seven championships. For White, it was his last – and best – chance of world championship glory.
Neil Clark defends his selection
A "wrong" ending is one where a fairytale outcome is cruelly denied, where superior play or heroic performances go unrewarded. Often they involve underdogs narrowly losing to more seasoned winners, as in the case of QPR in 1976. Above all, they are endings which, to the neutral observer, just don't feel right. Apart from friends of Stewart Cink, was there anyone watching who didn't feel enormously deflated by Tom Watson's fate at this year's Open? Lots of options were considered – Devon Loch at the 1956 Grand National, the Magnificent Magyars losing to West Germany at the World Cup two years previously – but I feel special affection for Scott Norwood of the flamboyant Buffalo Bills. Facing up to the defensively minded New York Giants in the 1994 Super Bowl, Norwood missed a 47-yard field goal in the dying seconds – to make it worse, it was the first of four finals they lost in a row.