Comment: That was the year that was

Click to follow
THE DIFFERENCE between an annus horribilis and an annus mirabilis can be a fine one, often depending more on the temperament of the observer than on questions of actual fact. By any standards, though, 1993 has produced much of which British sport can feel ashamed.

It was the year of - among other things - the turnip, the bung, the gouge (eyes, rugby; and ball, cricket), bag-snatching (testicles, rugby), ankle-trampling, head-raking and reckless use of the elbow. It was a year of national humiliation: in Rotterdam, in San Marino, at Aintree, on cricket grounds all over England.

It was a year in which respect for referees reached an all-time low: 'cheating men in black' had their characters assassinated for decisions taken as far afield as Christchurch (rugby union), Galatasaray (football) and San Antonio (boxing). Foreign opponents fared little better, especially if they won: the British showed scant grace in defeat against the athletes of China, the cricketers of Australia, the footballers of the Netherlands, even - until they were beaten - the rugby players of New Zealand.

It was also a year of sad departures. Graham Gooch and Ian McGeechan both made their final bows on the international stage; David Gower and Ian Botham retired from first-class sport altogether. Sadder still, two giants of football, Bobby Moore and Danny Blanchflower, died, neither having made, in his post-playing days, the contribution to the development of the British game that many had hoped for.

But that is only half of the story; and we would do well, before we consign the year to the dustbin of sporting history, to consider the other half. This was also the year, remember, in which Linford Christie and Sally Gunnell, the captains of our male and female athletics teams, spectacularly confirmed their status as the best in the world at their respective events (as did Colin Jackson). It was a year that brought Britain, unprecedentedly, not just one world heavyweight boxing champion, but two (even if doubts remain, strictly speaking, over the extent to which either is truly world champion - or even British).

It was a year in which Great Britain's rugby league players dazzlingly outclassed the Kiwis and, more remarkably, England's rugby union players comprehensively outplayed an All Blacks side which had been hailed as the best in the world.

Significantly, it was a year in which, for the first time since 1895, serious noises began to be made about a possible rapprochement between rugby's two codes - a trend as welcome as it was unexpected.

But perhaps most significantly of all, it was a year in which an almost forgotten concept - the honourable defeat - made a comeback. Andrew Foster, Frank Bruno, the European Ryder Cup team, Norwich City, the Welsh football team: they were all losers, but they were all acclaimed, rightly, for the manner of their defeats. For years, the canard that winning is everything has flourished unchallenged; could sport's true values now be reasserting themselves? If so, 1994 may turn out to be a happy new year.