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Classic Sporting Moments

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Tennis player and gymnast depicted on a 1970's-style starry background.
It couldn't get any more exciting if Elvis walked in and asked for a bag of chips!
- TV sports pundit Sid Waddell commentating on a very tense darts match.

For sheer tension, excitement, drama and emotion, there are those that argue sport tops even sex - or at least gives it a damn good run for its money. Here's a few classic sporting moments then, written about by the h2g2 Community and guaranteed to set hearts racing and emotions soaring...


Headingly '81

England playing appallingly and already behind in the Ashes, Botham sacked as captain and without a decent game for some time, and England forced to follow on. When Botham picked up his bat and strode onto the pitch the game was as good as over, bookies had stopped taking bets on Australia winning and runs were still needed to make them bat again. Hey, if it was runs you wanted...

The innings Botham put together turned him into the legend he now is in the minds of England cricket supporters. His 149 not out was thrilling to watch, full of courage, character and sheer unadulterated aggression. The way he played was electric and you could see it surge through the rest of the England team (Grahame Dilley making 50!). By the time the last man was out the whole ground was buzzing.

But that wasn't the end of it - even with Botham's innings Australia still only needed 129 to win - easily gettable. Stand up the man with the perm! Bob Willis had the longest run up in the history of the game (so it seemed at the time, and looking back still seems to). Every ball he bowled took an age from when he started his run up to the time the ball left his hands, and every one had the entire crowd behind him. In the end Australia were bowled out for 111 and Willis had taken 8 for 43.

At the time I was an impressionable 12-year-old who wasn't really into sport, but the atmosphere generated by this match turned me into a cricket lover (watching only, I'm afraid) and I'll always try and watch England's matches now. And on top of that Ian Botham became my first true sporting hero. Lots of people call cricket boring because it lasts five days, but when it clicks no sport can generate the prolonged excitement that it can, simply because after five days every single ball can mean the difference between winning and losing.

Football (Soccer)

Ireland vs Romania, 1990 World Cup Qualifier

In the history of Irish football, the second round qualifier between the Republic of Ireland and Romania in Genoa on 25 June, 1990 stands out above all others in the minds of many. The score at full time was 0-0. The match had not been spectacular by any stretch of the imagination, but nevertheless Ireland had hung on against a team of sporting greats, most notably the famed Georgi Hagi.

What was memorable was the penalty shoot out. It was the most tense moment of my life, and the life of almost everybody in the country at that time. Romania scored, then Ireland, then Romania... For four high-tension rounds the ball was pummeled into the back of the opposing nets, the goalkeepers making valiant but unsuccessful efforts to write themselves into the record books. Then Daniel Timofte stood up for Romania - he kicked the ball and Pakie Bonner, Irish goalkeeper caught it and saved it. The place went wild, but quickly a hush followed. David O'Leary, an international veteran, stepped up onto the plate. The whole country stopped breathing. The pressure on him was unimaginable. A run, a deft kick, and Ireland, on their first entry to the World Cup Finals, was into the quarter finals! I never, ever, experienced anything like the euphoria afterwards. Olé, olé indeed!

Ireland were subsequently beaten by Italy 1-0, but nobody really minded. Toto Schillaci, the Italian scorer on that day, is still a bit of a celebrity here, as evidenced by a recent beer ad on Irish television.

England vs Germany, World Cup Qualifier 2001

A game that mesmerised one nation, simultaneously breaking the hearts of another...

What about England beating Germany 5-1? To say the least I was gobsmacked. The score explains everything. It was hard to believe what was happening - I was in and out of my seat all through the game - still didn't believe we were going to win it until we got the fourth - watched it with my dad and he went to take the rubbish out at half time and missed two goals...
If you just blinked, you would miss a goal - that's how spectacular it was. I actually blinked and missed a goal. I was really annoyed about it.

England vs Scotland, Euro '96

A moment that for many transcends football - even a non-fan can appreciate poetry in motion. Euro 96, England vs Scotland; Paul Gascoigne scoring the goal he will always be remembered for.


Sydney 2000 - Coxless 4 Rowing

This was the big one - five Golds for Redgrave, three for Pinsent. An extremely tense race, with a very emotional finish. Having it so late at night (or so it seemed to anyone in the UK) just added to the atmosphere. An absolutely incredible moment, but can it be equalled?

Yeah, it was my first weekend at University (wasn't it a Friday night?) and half my hall ended up coming home early just to watch the race. We were all sitting in the TV room in various states of disrepair (ie, drunkenness) watching. The tension was unbelievable - we were screaming along with everyone watching it in Sydney. It was fantastic.

Ice Skating

Women's Figure Skating, Lillehammer, 1994

Remember the big 'hallo' around the two Americans? All attention was concentrated on Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding, speculating which one of them would win... But my favourite Oksana Bajul from Ukraina won the gold medal and beat them both! And my favourite moment was during the show afterwards, when Oksana did 'Swan Lake' and if my memory serves me correctly it ended with the 'swan' dying. Beautiful, it was, so beautiful...


1990 Five Nations

It's the final match of the Five Nations Season. Both Scotland and England are in the top spot having played three, won three. Everything's to play for: Grand Slam, Triple Crown and the Calcutta Cup. Scotland go into the match as underdogs (as usual), but with the match being played on the hallowed turf of Murrayfield anything could happen...

The England team charge out onto the pitch. Scotland are led out on to the pitch by their redoubtable skipper, David Sole. Rather than the usual run out, they walk with the expectations of a nation on their broad shoulders and the pride of a great country at stake. John Jeffrey, Finlay Calder, Derek White, Gary Armstrong, the Hastings Brothers to name but a few.

Just before kick-off the odds on Scotland winning, tumble, but still the perceived English arrogance prevails.

Quite what happened in the 80 minutes of play I don't recall ... but the feeling as the final whistle went was one I've yet to experience again. As for the newspaper reports the next day ... you should have seen them in Scotland. Anyone would've thought we'd won the most cherished prize in Northern Hemisphere rugby!

Calcutta Cup, 2000

It was the final game of the 2000 Six Nations Rugby competition and Scotland, defending champions, were, to put it mildly, a pile of dingos' kidneys. They had not won a single game all season. And now it was the final match, against England. Scotland had not beaten England in ten years, since 1990, when they snatched a Grand Slam from the English by beating them at Murrayfield on the last day.

So, ten years since their last win over England and this did not look like the year. The game started badly, Scotland struggling to hold on as the English slowly ground them down. England got a text book try. Scotland were happy to make in to the break still in touch. And then the heavens opened. It p***ed it down. The second half saw the English try to play the same quick moving game they had used in the first half. But it was too wet. And they didn't change their tactics. The Scots began to sense that something could happen, and then they sneaked the all important try, snuck into the lead and then held on grimly.

I found myself watching the last ten minutes on my knees chewing a bean bag in desperation. And then the final whistle, Andy Nicol went up to get the Calcutta Cup, the English stormed off to their dressing room and did not collect the Six Nations Trophy (which they had won fair and square) and I got blootered. It happens so rarely you have to make the most of it.

Rugby League

Rugby league is not a sport watched by many people, unless you live within a half-hour drive of the M62 (in the UK at least) but two moments transcend the sport and could be shown to anyone as examples of true classic moments...

First, Joe Lydon, playing for Widnes against Wigan in 1990, possibly a challenge cup final. 13 yards inside their own half, Widnes come to the fifth tackle, where the usual action is for the tackled man to play the ball back to the man behind him, who, rather than continuing the play, punts the ball up field, or into touch to gain ground. So Lydon receives the ball, and casually drop kicks it. He didn't even wait to see where it went - just casually turned his back and walked away, as the ball sailed an incredible 63 yards between the posts for a superlative drop goal.

Second, Martin Offiah, in the 1992 Challenge Cup final against Castleford. Wigan won 38-12, which may sound decisive, but the semi-final score had been 74-10, and they played a match the week after and won 76-8, so 38-12 was a lucky escape for Castleford by comparison. The moment came when Castleford had kicked the ball forward, and it was lying in the try scoring area. All that was needed to score was for either of two Castleford forwards to reach the ball, about thirty yards away, and touch it. Martin Offiah was ten yards behind them, and had to reach it first. He ran between them, and kicked the ball away to save the try. He accelerated from a standing start so fast that the two Castleford forwards (both professional athletes, remember, so not exactly slow themselves...) looked as though they were standing still. The Castleford manager, interviewed after the match, said Offiah 'looked as though he'd been shot out of a cannon'.


1999 British Open

Jean Van de Velde was in the home strait on the 18th in the last round in Carnoustie. He would win the British Open if he could get the ball into the hole in 6 shots. For a professional, this should not be a problem, as they usually only need 4 shots, or less. The engraver, thinking that the Open was in the bag for Van de Velde, started to inscribe his name on the famous claret jug. It was not to be.

His second shot hit the grandstand and ended up in deep rough beside a steep ditch. His third shot landed in the water, still beside the ditch, and incurring an extra penalty shot1. His fifth shot ended in a bunker. Peter Allis, commentating on TV, was apoplectic. His sixth shot, at last, made it to the green, and he hit the hole on the seventh shot. Van de Velde eventually lost the playoffs, and Scotland's Paul Lawrie became the Open Champion.

Van de Velde, talking afterwards said, 'There are worse things in life. Some terrible things are happening to other people. It's only a golf tournament.' Yes, and what a golf tournament!

Motor Racing

Belgian Grand Prix, 1998

For me - a major Formula One (and Damon Hill) fan, this race was and still is one of the greatest races I have ever seen in my life. The amazing David Coulthard-initiated pile-up at the third corner of the first lap left some teams only able to enter one driver in the spare car. The carnage and debris of that pile-up, along with the fact that nobody was even so much as hurt by the crash made it one of the most spectacular things I have ever seen!

The monsoon-like rain throughout the race proved for some more fantastic pieces of action - continued towards the end by the edge-of-your-seat tension as we were all failing to find out which of the two Jordan cars were going to be allowed to win. The faster one (Ralf Schumacher) or the one with more points (Damon Hill). As the two cars came closer, and it ever increasingly looked as if Ralf was going to overtake - he held back, and there they stayed, for a formation finish - providing Hill with his last Formula One race win, and the Jordan team's first.

As I sat there on the floor in my living-room, surrounded by my Non-F1-watching family, I felt his sheer elation on the podium as if I was the man himself, truly happy.

Later it emerged in a documentary that Hill had been on the radio to the team - and given Eddie Jordan the choice. If Schumacher Jr wanted to overtake and take the win, he was given the chance. As it was - Jordan told both drivers to hold position and Schumacher Jr (albeit rather grudgingly) did as he was asked, and for that many Damon Hill fans are immensely grateful. Hill's selflessness in asking the team to decide instead of just taking the race for himself, rewarded the team with a maximum 16 points and gave Hill another place in the history books.

Thank you Damon for that race - It was one of the proudest moments of my life to see you win.

American Football

2000 Superbowl

The beginning of the 1999-2000 season looked promising for the St Louis Rams, but a pre-season injury sidelined the quarterback that would have been their saviour. Stepping up to fill in the season was Kurt Warner. No one had many hopes for the season, but then the strangest thing happened: the Rams were winning games...

The 2000 Superbowl between the St Louis Rams and the Tennessee Titans is a game I will never forget. The Rams had spent the previous four years in St Louis solidly holding down the bottoms of the ranks, turning in one dismal performance after another. Making their way through the play-offs, each round bringing them closer to an impossible goal. At the beginning of the season the Rams were the longest shot for a Superbowl show. But it was happening.
I hate football. I don't understand it, I can't follow it, it's just not hockey. But it was just impossible to ignore the Rams that year. My boyfriend was having his annual Superbowl party (a first for me) and all our friends and families were there. I will never forget the feeling of watching the impossible happen. With seconds left in the game, Tennessee failed to score a final touchdown, making the Rams the winners.
I don't remember the score, I don't remember how much they won by or who scored. What I do remember is the scream that erupted, not only in our apartment but throughout the apartment building, when Tennessee failed to cross the goal line in that final run. One single season had seen the Rams go from last place long shots to first place Superbowl champions.


1986 NY Mets

On 25 October, 1986, the New York Mets were one out away from losing the World Series to the Boston Red Sox in game six. They were two runs down in the bottom of the 10th inning, when Mookie Wilson dribbled a ground ball right through the legs of Boston's first baseman Bill Buckner to score Ray Knight for a 6-5 victory. This enabled them to come back the next day to win the best of seven championship in game seven.

I can still visualise Ray Knight running towards home holding his head in absolute disbelief at the situation.


World Snooker Championships Final, 1985

Often referred to as that snooker final, the World Championship Final between Steve Davis and Dennis Taylor in 1985 was sensational. When it all hung on that last black ball which refused to be sunk, one third of the British population stayed glued to their television sets until well after midnight biting their fingernails down to the elbow. They took nine months to grow back. Amazing stuff.


Borg v McEnroe, Wimbledon 1980

With what shall forever be known as 'The Tiebreak'. 34 points, 5 match points to Borg, 7 set points to McEnroe. The battle between fire and ice, and a clash of styles. Still considered to be the best tennis match ever. But what was quite sublime was the commentary, by John Barrett:

And that's the greatness of the man; give him a fleeting chance and he's through like a rapier.
- On Borg taking a rare half-chance
The simple refusal to give in.
- On McEnroe's particularly nasty angle on a touch volley
Well surely there's nothing left to happen in this tiebreak; everything has.
- On the cathartism of the tiebreak at 11-all

Rafter vs Ivanisevic, Wimbledon 2001

The only match to be compared to the previous as being as good as, arguably better than the 1980 final. Two men, desperate to win - having never won it before. Goran, the joker, who epitomised the 'always the runner-up but never the winner' with such tragedy. Rafter, the most gentlemanly player since Borg - on the verge of retiring; he came so close in 2000, yet lost so gallantly. Pure drama which left you hanging onto every point, swinging fortune both one way, and then so rapidly the next. And, as befits the eventual winner, what came across was the sheer drama of the match, with a few tantrums thrown in for good measure.

McEnroe, Wimbledon 1981 (That Tantrum)

Mac serves what he thinks is an ace. The linesman and the umpire, though, see it very differently...

Mac:The ball... chalk came up off of the ball... (walks toward umpire's chair)
Umpire: It was a bit of chalk spread Mr McEnroe, that was a good call.
Mac: Excuse me?
Umpire: It was a good call...
Mac: You can't be serious man; you CANNOT BE SERIOUS! That ball was on the line! Chalk flew up! (Waves his arms to demonstrate.) It was clearly in! How can you POSSIBLY call that out?!? (Audience starts to clap - possibly in appreciation for this bit of entertainment.) How can you even miss?!? Now he's walking over, and everyone knows it's in in this whole stadium. And you call that out?!? Explain that to me!

And Finally...

A Goalkeeper's Life...

In an inter-university cup match the play was all down the other end when suddenly two Yorkshire terriers stormed onto the pitch and attacked me (in goal). At this point they broke away with the ball which led to a hilarious one-on-one where the striker was running towards me at speed with the ball and I was running towards him with a terrier attached to each foot. Fortunately he was laughing so hard that he spooned the shot way over the bar.


And for two totally moving, awe-inspriring (and slightly odd) classic sporting moments, please check out the efforts of Eric 'the Eel' Moussambani and Paula 'the Crawler'. Go on, you know you want to!

Related BBC Links

1Here's a little more information more about the water shot, the one where he incurred the penalty. Even though the ball was in the water, and beside a deep ditch, Van De Velde actually contemplated playing it. He took off his shoes and socks, climbed down the ditch, and started examining closely how he could hit the ball out of the water. Minutes passed. The commentators were beside themselves. The world was screeching 'Don't do it!' to him from the comfort of their television rooms. At last, he seemed to have got the message and took the penalty instead.

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