As an armchair sports fan there are so many massive events going on at the moment it is almost embarrassing: From the much hyped Brazilian World Cup which kicked off last night, to England’s Rugby tour of the mighty All Blacks, which has gone almost under the radar for such a great event. You then have Test Cricket at Lords, Lewis flying along in the F1, Rory in with a shout at the US Open, Boxing at Wembley, the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and of course Wimbledon at the end of June. If I did not have to put in so much training for the Chile Challenge I could probably get away with never leaving the house!
Whenever we have big events like these they always take me back to memories of watching them when growing up, so in celebration of the Summer of Sport we have coming up, I am writing a special edition of Heroes, based on those who were most inspirational to me growing up.
As far as football goes, and in particular World Cups, this should be pretty much a no brainer for anyone of my generation. The first tournament I remember really watching properly was Italy ’90, and Gazza was by some distance the stand-out for England. An exciting young guy he was brilliantly skilled on the pitch and a a real character. At 8 years old I remember crying my eyes out during the Germany match when he got that card, again along with probably everyone else in the country watching. After the tournament he continued to play an important role for me, pretty much single-handedly turning me into a Spurs supporter (ok maybe Lineker too) and helping us win the cup 12 months later with the greatest free kick ever in the semis. Of course it is a shame to see what has happened since, but the fact is everyone loves him so much he will always have support, and hopefully manage to make it through.
The first time I remember seeing Jonny must have been in the Six Nations around 1998 or 99, one of the times we managed to find a pub in the Croydon area that had the important features of allowing us to watch when we were still sixth formers, and not being so rough we had a chance of getting out alive afterwards. It must have been one of his early games, and someone mentioned he was only a year or two older than us, which seemed ridiculous for a kid to be playing full international rugby. And not only was he in the team, but it became obvious pretty quickly he was one of the best, with an incredible all round game: kicking, tacking, tactics, he had it all. Most people of course will remember Jonny for the drop goal which won us the World Cup in 2003, and whilst fans will know it was a team effort there, his contribution to get us to that point is undoubted. Whilst off the pitch he was a polar opposite from someone like Gazza, coming across as shy and serious, it only added to his role model status for us rugby fans. If it was not for injuries who knows how many points he could have racked up and extended his record by. It is amazing to think that Jonny has recently played his last ever matches, but going out on a high by adding the French top 14 and Heineken Cup to his many trophies and records.
Yes, I know it may be controversial as an English Cricket Fan to have an Aussie in here, but when I was growing up Shane was basically cricket to me. After bursting onto the scene with the Ball of the Century in 1993, he continued to blow teams away for well over a decade, at points winning Ashes matches almost at will. Consistently looking like he has just stumbled onto the pitch from the nearest beach, you would never have expected him to become the highest wicket taker of all time. At the age of 11 and having just started playing cricket at school I immediately decided I wanted to be a leg spinner, and would spend hours working on my technique to try and emulate his deliveries, and some of them even worked. I always remember my own ball of the century in an under 13’s match, bowling someone around their legs with a wide ball that they had left; whether it was more luck or skill I will never know or care! Whilst we of course have had a few characters of our own since – Tuffers, Dazzler, Freddy, KP and so on – Warnie for me will always be the original boyhood hero.
Hard as it is to imagine now, but before the days of Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake we actually used to win sprint medals fairly often. Back in the early 90’s Roger Black, Sally Gunnel, Colin Jackson and co saw us smashing records and going into events with expectations of a podium. But the daddy of them all, in the biggest race of all, was of course Linford Christie. Ok so he was born in Jamaica, but he competed for us! And the greatest moment for me growing up was him taking Gold at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, a feat it looks unlikely we will be able to repeat for a long time again now!