...and what if he had done?

One shot, one point, one penalty kick -all can change sporting history. Greg Wood considers what might have been in 1996

WHAT IF

Gareth Southgate had scored from that penalty?

It was the devil-may-care attitude which did it, that casual admission that even before the semi-final, with the shoot-out such an obvious possibility, it had not even crossed Gareth Southgate's mind to practice his penalties. When someone pointed out that the only previous penalty he had taken - and missed - had cost Crystal Palace a place in the Premiership, the legend was complete.

From a player of such limited experience, the kick was a revelation. It was struck with astonishing force, and Andreas Kopke was rooted to his line as the ball whistled past his head at such speed that the German keeper would be admitted to hospital shortly afterwards with second-degree burns to his left ear. Thirty seconds later, Andreas Moller sent his kick into the second-tier burger concession and Southgate was borne away down the tunnel on the shoulders of his team-mates.

No longer the gawky defender with a lispy grammar-school accent, Southgate was suddenly a national hero. Garra-mania took hold. That very night, printing presses around the country whirred into action. Within 48 hours, no adolescent bedroom wall was complete without its picture of Gareth.

Britain's media duly got behind its boys as Final day approached, even if the citizens of the Czech Republic proved a little more resistant to stereotyping than the Germans. By Saturday morning, the Mirror was getting desperate. "You Havel got to be joking", one headline read. "Egghead Czechs have a playwright as president!".

Yet how prescient it proved to be in the first half of the final. The Czech's football oozed intelligence and culture, and Patrik Berger's hat- trick barely reflected their superiority. The moment had arrived for one of Terry Venables' managerial masterstrokes.

"The guv'nor didn't say a word when we got to the dressing-room," Teddy Sheringham recalled later. "He just switched on the telly. Alan Hansen was laughing so much he couldn't even interrupt Jimmy Hill. After that, we couldn't wait to get stuck in."

Venables' ruse worked perfectly on all but Stuart Pearce, the only England player who was already fully motivated, and who suffered a severe emotional overload as a result. Fortunately, Pearce's subsequent attempt to impale Karel Poborsky with a spare corner flag took place in the tunnel, and the ugly scenes as a dozen security guards attempted to restrain the Forest full-back thus went unrecorded by photographers.

Knocked out by an elephantine dose from the tranquilliser dart which eventually brought him down, Pearce was oblivious to the drama unfolding on the pitch. Alan Shearer's injury early in the second half seemed to have been compounded when the zip on Robbie Fowler's tracksuit top jammed, and the striker was sidelined while the St John's Ambulance tried to cut him free.

While they struggled, however, Southgate was pushed into emergency service up front, to immediate and astounding effect. Confidence boosted by the 35-yard screamer which removed the keeper's front teeth on its way into the net, Southgate then lobbed him from five yards inside his own half less than five minutes later. When England won a free-kick 25 yards out, Wembley went wild as Southgate manhandled Gascoigne away from the ball before calmly curling his shot into the top corner for a 10-minute hat- trick.

Who can say how different things might have been if Fowler had not finally been released from his tracksuit? Southgate returned to a defensive role, and from then on, fighting spirit alone could not break down the gritty Czech defence. Once again, the shoot-out beckoned.

At 5-4 down, the palms of English hands were getting a little sweaty, until the slim but reliable form of Southgate stepped up to the spot. Matthews, Finney, Moore, Charlton, Southgate - his name was surely inked in already on England's roll of honour. Throughout the length and breadth of Soho, young men with pony-tails devised witty taglines to launch a thousand endorsements, for everything from boots ("for blokes who want to score like Gareth") to condoms (er.. ditto).

So what went through his mind at that crucial moment? "I thought of what my mum said to me after the Germany game," he explained later. "Gareth, she said, why the hell did you blast it? Think what a prat you'd have looked if it had gone over the bar. Didn't Waddle and Pearce teach you anything? Mark my words. Next time, try a hopeless, limp-ankled poke to the goalie's right. He won't be expecting that."

The rest, of course, is history...

Zimbabwe had faced some serious opposition this winter?

It's just so frustrating," David Lloyd said, shortly after the letter dropped on to his doormat. "We're really not as bad as people think."

The communique was from the Zimbabwean cricket authorities. "We're very sorry," it read, "but tickets for the Test matches just aren't selling. People want the whiff of competition, the possibility that we might actually lose. So we've invited the Netherlands instead."

It is a testament to the enormous ability of English cricket's administrators that an alternative tour was organised at such short notice. There were those among the press corps who complained that the Falkland Islands were not quite in cricket's top division, but that, of course, was nothing but sour grapes, a result of the unexpected cancellation of their winter in sub-equatorial Africa.

And so it was that Mike Atherton and company found themselves clambering out of a Hercules transport on to the tarmac of Port Stanley airport. They could be forgiven for looking a little bemused, not least upon discovering that the very same runway would form the wicket for their opening match, against the Baggage Handlers XI.

In the circumstances, their 152-run defeat was hardly a disgrace. "It was the wrong kind of tarmac," Lloyd insisted. "We're really not as bad as people think." A similar excuse - "the wrong kind of shingle" - was advanced following the 10-wicket mauling at the calloused hands of the South Georgia Beachcombers Second XI. By the third day of the first Test, however, it was wearing a little thin. "They are," the coach declared, "the wrong kind of sheep."

It was fortunate indeed for the tourists that their visit coincided with the shearing season. Their opponents were forced to concede the match shortly before lunch on day four, but the spanking new pullovers each member of the England party received were by now of little consolation. Their next assignment was against the Oil Rig Salvage Crews' XI, on a rusting platform 10 miles offshore, and for Lloyd, a disturbing moment of self-discovery was at hand.

England were trailing by 190 runs with a single wicket in hand as the rig started to disintegrate into the south Atlantic. "Oh God," the coach exclaimed as the icy water lapped around his neck. "We really are as bad as people think." Tim Henman had won Wimbledon?

Ironic, isn't it?" Tim Henman said last week. "At the time, it seemed like the greatest moment of my life. Now, six months on, I can see that winning Wimbledon was the worst thing that ever happened to me."

It seems like much more than six months since that blistering backhand cross-court pass left Richard Krajicek belly up, and Henman as the first British winner of the men's singles since Fred Perry. Little did he realise how that legacy would come to haunt him.

The Champions' Ball was the where it all started to go wrong. Henman and Steffi Graf made an attractive couple as the band struck up the first dance, and the women's champion was muttering more than sweet nothings into the young Briton's ear. "I was a bit taken aback," he recalls, "the music drowned her out and all I could hear at first was something about her wanting to give me some serious attention. Then I realised she meant my accounts, and she was giving me her dad's phone number."

An attempt to emulate the success of the Fred Perry clothing range seemed a logical departure, and on the recommendation of his newly appointed financial advisor, official Henman shirts were manufactured in Ulan Bator, prior to import into Britain via Afghanistan, the Cayman Islands, Colombia and a yacht out of Miami.

In hindsight, the problem was obvious - the range was designed to reflect the man himself. Shy and understated at the very time when brashness was back on the catwalks of Paris and Milan, the Henman collection took up such stubborn residence on high-street shelves that several stores started charging rent. As Henman's bank balance suffered, so too did his form, and within a few short weeks, the only figure larger than his overdraft was his world ranking.

Then, just when it seemed that things could not get worse, HM Customs intercepted the latest consignment of "clothing", 150 miles off Penzance. "For obvious reasons, I simply can't comment," Henman said. "And anyway, visiting time is over." Emerson's wife had liked Middlesbrough Please. Be serious

Emerson's wife had liked Middlesbrough?

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