Few, if any, countries have as rich and diverse a sporting heritage as the UK. The truth is that Great Britain invented many of the world’s most popular games today – including the planet’s favourite sports football. But as far as the country itself is concerned – the fooling events all deserve a place in an all-time top ten sporting moments of the last half a century:
10 – Wigan’s 8 Challenge Cups in a row
Rugby League is a very popular sport in the north of England and in parts of Australia – but few other places. This means it doesn’t always get the media coverage it deserves and it also means that the incredible feats of some of the teams don’t get much media and public attention. So when Wigan managed the incredible feat of winning eight Challenge Cups (the main knockout competition in the sport in the UK) on the spin starting in 1988 and ending in 1995, it didn’t get the coverage it warranted. But this doesn’t detract from the incredible achievement.
What makes the most famous club in Rugby League’s achievement even more incredible is that they also managed to win the Rugby League Championship seven times during the same period along with a whole host of other honours. Such a feat hasn’t been mirrored in any other mainstream sport in the UK before or since.
9 – Botham’s Ashes series
During the summer of 1981, England and Australia contested the 51st Ashes Series – the series of matches played every couple of years between the two countries. It was to turn out to be an incredible series and one of the most memorable, if not the most, of all time.
Australia led after the first two tests and looked like they would win the third comfortably. But England’s star player Ian Botham (who had been stripped of the captaincy after the first two tremendously disappointing tests) had other ideas.
Famously, England were 500-1 in the cricket betting to win the third test at one stage – so poorly were they playing. But up stepped “Beefy” Botham knocking up an incredible 149 not out, followed by a remarkable bowling and fielding display to win the test by just 18 runs. England then went on to win the final two tests and clinch what is possibly the most remarkable Ashes series of all time. To this day, it is simply known as “Botham’s Ashes” and fittingly so.
8 – Jack Walker’s Blackburn Rovers Premier League win
In the 1994-945 season, Alan Shearer helped fire Blackburn Rovers to their one and only Premier League title – with Kenny Dalglish at the helm as manager. All this had been made possible by their wealthy benefactor, steel magnate Jack Walker who had bankrolled Rovers’ title push. It went right down to the wire against Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United.
On the last day of the season, Blackburn lost at home to Liverpool whilst Man United also lost away at West Ham and the title went to the Rovers – and a tearfully proud “uncle” Jack Walker.
7 – Arsenal’s invincibles season
Under the leadership of Arsene Wenger, Arsenal had started to play some of the most attractive football seen anywhere in the world around the turn of the century. But it was the 2003–04 season when The Gunners were really to come into their own.
In short, Wenger’s team “the invincibles” went the whole season without losing a single league game. They’d won the title the year before, and retained it with consummate ease. From the 38 Premier League games played, The Gunners won 26 wins, drew 12 and lost none.
But Arsenal had come very close to losing the sixth match of the season against fierce rivals Manchester United. United’s star frontman Ruud van Nistelrooy failed to score a penalty in injury time that would surely have won the game. Instead, he missed and it ended 0–0.
And to make the league victory sweeter still, Arsenal clinched the title courtesy of a draw against near-neighbours and rivals Tottenham Hotspur in April.
6 – Desert Orchid’s Cheltenham Gold Cup win
Desert Orchid was the UK’s favourite jumper in the world of National Hunt racing in the late 80s and early 90s. The grey showed tremendous heart winning many big races including the King George VI Chase on four separate occasions. But the biggest prize of all, the Cheltenham Gold Cup, run over 3 miles 2 furlongs was thought to be beyond Desert Orchid. The race was too far for his liking and its undulating track a tremendous test of stamina. What’s more – Cheltenham is a left-handed course, which wasn’t to “Dessie’s” liking.
To make matters worse for the 1989 race, rain and snow made the going heavy. These weren’t great for the horse either, but he battled on gamely and managed to get his head in front of Yahoo who loved the going. He went on to win by one and a half lengths in an incredibly gutsy performance – and brought the house down in front of 58,000 spectators as he did so.
5 – Man United’s 1999 Champions League win
In the 1999 UEFA Champions League Final at the Camp Nou in Barcelona, Bayern Munich was the better side and looked to be heading for a deserved 1-0 win. But Sir Alex Ferguson was famous for encouraging his Man United side to keep playing to the final whistle – and this was something they always did. But it was never as important as the injury time in 1999 in this the most important game in world club football.
United had already completed a domestic double, winning the Premier League and FA Cup in May. But it looked like they were failing at the final moments to make it a historic treble. But the in injury time, United were awarded a corner just when the 4th official held his sign up saying there’d be three minutes of added time.
United’s keeper, Peter Schmeichel, came up for the corner, which was taken by David Beckham. The ball went over Schmeichel’s head, landed at the feet of Dwight Yorke who put the ball in the crowded box. A partial clearance saw the ball go to Ryan Giggs who miscued, sending the ball to Teddy Sheringham, who swept it home.
After play resumed at 1-1 and extra time beckoned, United won another corner. Beckham took this one as well and found the head of Sheringham. He headed the ball down across the goal for Ole Gunnar Solskjær to poke it home and for United to complete an incredible victory and an incredibly impressive treble – surely their finest ever moment.
4 – Red Rum’s third Grand National win
Red Rum is the most famous Grand National horse of all time – and possibly the most famous racehorse the world has ever seen. Red Rum won back-to-back Grand Nationals in 1973 and 74 and was runner-up under heavy weights in both of the following two years. This was an impossibly good record in a race, which is seen as the toughest steeplechase in the world to win. The fact that the race is a handicap usually means that most horses only get one decent crack at it – so Red Rum was very special indeed.
But when he came back for the fifth attempt in 1977 aged 12, it seemed like one too many. But no – Rummy achieved the impossible winning for the third time.
It is surely the most incredible moment in the history of hose racing and Rummy is fittingly buried adjacent to the Aintree winning post today.
3 – The 2003 Rugby Union World Cup
England were favourites to win this World Cup hosted by Australia. But when the hosts beat traditional Rugby Union powerhouses New Zealand in the semis, it looked a daunting task for England.
But the combination of a great try by former Wigan Rugby League player Jason Robinson, and four penalties from Jonny Wilkinson – followed by a drop-goal in extra time by the same player – meant England won 20–17. In doing so, England managed to become the first ever side from the northern hemisphere win a World Cup – and it couldn’t have happened in more dramatic last-minute style.
2 – The 2012 London Olympics
In 2012, London hosted what will surely go down in history as one of the greatest summer Olympic Games of all time. And the host nation came an incredible third in the final medal table, being beaten only by the USA and China, countries with far larger populations.
1 – The 1966 World Cup
Top of the tree for most sports fans in the English part of the UK, though, has to be the victory in the 1966 World Cup final over Germany (4-2 after extra time). This is a feat that may never be repeated – who knows? But it’s still the single most iconic moment ever in English sport.