Take away its unpredictability and sport would be as boring as the rest of life so, in order to preserve that vital element of surprise, the following preview of 1996 contains a number of false forecasts interspersed among the genuine. I am unable, therefore, to indicate which of the following will not happen.
January: Worried about the influx of foreign footballers, all home-born Englishmen in the Premiership decide to protect their interests by banding together under the proud title of the Order of Anglo-Saxon Footballers. Only when they get the letterheads from the printers do the OAFs realise their first mistake. England win Fifth Test in Cape Town after 200 from Mike Atherton. Umpire Cyril Mitchley complains that Atherton keeps signalling how many centuries he has scored. England get off to bad start in Five Nations' Championship, losing 35-10 to France in Paris. "I blame L'Equipe," says Jack Rowell.
February: OAFs announce their aims - to improve the dignity and reputation of the English footballer and set high standards for discipline, dedication and good behaviour. At their first meeting in Stringfellows, Paul Gascoigne is elected chairman. Vinny Jones offers to be public relations officer since he's got plenty of time on his hands. The 1996 European Golf Tour reaches Australia via Singapore. Next stop, South Africa. Wales produce a shock victory over England at Twickenham. Jack Rowell blames Y Cymro.
March: Referee-baiting reaches epidemic proportions in all games world- wide as thousands of players dispute decisions. United Nations take action by forming The Organisation to Sustain and Support Umpires and Referees. OAFs telephone TOSSURS to compare acronym problems. Frank Bruno beats Mike Tyson to retain world heavyweight title amid tearful scenes. Bruno retires to concentrate on pantomime; Tyson asks for his old cell back. Scotland beat England at Murrayfield; Rowell threatens to sue the Glasgow Herald. The European Golf Tour goes to Morocco and the United Arab Emirates. Thirty players go down with homesickness. Ireland win Triple Crown by beating England at Twickenham; Jack Rowell resigns to become a rugby writer.
April: Earth Summit wins the Grand National at Aintree; a first National winner for the trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies. England's footballers win a friendly against Croatia at Wembley a month after a similar victory over Bulgaria. Terry Venables is ecstatic: "We couldn't have done it without the OAFs," he said. Wigan are beaten in the Challenge Cup Final by Warrington. Great Britain select Linford Christie for their Olympic team "just in case he changes his mind".
May: The nation goes wild with delight as Tim Henman becomes the first Briton to win the men's singles title at Wimbledon since Fred Perry in 1936. Thousands dance on the Centre Court until well after midnight. Meanwhile, top tennis stars around the world complain that they weren't told about the change of dates: "They usually hold it at the end of June," Pete Sampras protests. Having won the Championship two weeks previously, Liverpool win the FA Cup against Manchester United at Wembley thereby recording the Double exactly 10 years after first achieving that rare honour in 1986. The European Golf Tour stages first tournament on British soil, the Benson and Hedges Open at The Oxfordshire. Fifty players go down with stomach trouble: "They're not used to the food," says an official. Christie says: "I'll definitely be at the Olympics, I think."
June: Bright Water wins the Derby to bring sweet revenge to the trainer Henry Cecil, from whose stables Sheikh Mohammed had removed the fancied Helicon in 1995. The Derby was returned to its original Wednesday date to avoid a clash with the opening match in the European Championship finals and it was just as well. England began the finals with a resounding victory over Switzerland at Wembley. The threat of foreign players replacing them at their clubs had transformed the OAFs. In their next match against Scotland they are even better. Gascoigne scores four of England's six goals: "Now he starts playing," grumbles a Rangers fan. England are unstoppable and they beat Holland, Spain, Germany and, finally, Italy to win the Championship. They play every match at Wembley just as they did when winning the 1966 World Cup. "I am so happy," says Christie,"I don't think I'll bother with the Olympics."
July: England's victory dominates the summer. Venables is hailed as a hero. Judges stand to lead the applause every time he walks into a courtroom. Alan Sugar sends him a gold monogrammed Amstrad. The Queen asks if she can be patron of the OAFs. England clinch the Test series against India. Britain's Olympic team leaves for Atlanta: "Hang on, I'm coming," says Christie.
August: Jonathan Edwards hops, skips and jumps above the world again. Colin Jackson takes the high hurdles and Christie crowns a great career by winning the 100m with a yard to spare: "I can't imagine why you ever doubted that I would," he says at the press conference.
September: The sporting year has become an anti-climax but the rugby league's Super League has been a great success. "This summer has been the perfect answer to the critics who said we were selling out to Sky," says Maurice Lindsay. He is speaking during a Wigan time-out in the final match, just before the one-legged penalty shoot-out.
October: England's rugby union teams enjoy their first professional season. Iestyn Harris transfers for pounds 2m from Warrington to Newcastle.
November: The Barbarians, greatest of all invitation teams, announce their plans for survival in the commercial world. They are going to select teams made up of union and league players. Jonah Lomu, Martin Offiah, Va'aiga Tuigamala, Paul Newlove, Ellery Hanley, Jonathan Davies and John Devereux have agreed to join a star-studded Barbarians team ready to take on anyone and uphold their finest traditions; "We'll only charge a million," they add.
December: All the soccer and rugby clubs who installed undersoil heating after the arctic weather of 1995 wait contentedly for the end-of-the-year matches. It is the warmest Christmas-New Year holiday for 50 years.Reuse content